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Gadamer and nāgārjuna in play : providing a new anti-objectivist foundation for gadamer's interpretive pluralism with nāgārjuna's help
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Byle, Nicholas
University of South Florida
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Philosophical hermeneutics
Buddhist philosophy
Comparative philosophy
Dissertations, Academic -- Religious Studies -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
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ABSTRACT: Hans-Georg Gadamer rejects objectivism, the position that an interpreter may come to a single correct truth concerning any particular object, in favor of interpretive pluralism. What is not clear is how Gadamer grounds this position. This ambiguity leaves Gadamer open to multiple objectivist counters, ones which he would not wish to allow. The following argument, using a comparative and analytic approach, takes two concepts, pratītyasamutpāda (interdependence) and śūnyatā (emptiness), as they are deployed by Nāgārjuna to provide Gadamer with this much needed anti-objectivist foundation. Specifically, the new foundation is anti-realist in which interpreters and objects of interpretation are metaphysically empty, or devoid of independent existence, and are ultimately dependent on their "position" in a cultural and historical horizon. If there is no metaphysical object apart from the interpreter's engagement with it, then there is no stable phenomenon to which objectivists may appeal.
Thesis (MA)--University of South Florida, 2010.
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by Nicholas Byle.
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Gadamer and nāgārjuna in play :
b providing a new anti-objectivist foundation for gadamer's interpretive pluralism with nāgārjuna's help
h [electronic resource] /
by Nicholas Byle.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains X pages.
Thesis (MA)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
3 520
ABSTRACT: Hans-Georg Gadamer rejects objectivism, the position that an interpreter may come to a single correct truth concerning any particular object, in favor of interpretive pluralism. What is not clear is how Gadamer grounds this position. This ambiguity leaves Gadamer open to multiple objectivist counters, ones which he would not wish to allow. The following argument, using a comparative and analytic approach, takes two concepts, pratītyasamutpāda (interdependence) and śūnyatā (emptiness), as they are deployed by Nāgārjuna to provide Gadamer with this much needed anti-objectivist foundation. Specifically, the new foundation is anti-realist in which interpreters and objects of interpretation are metaphysically empty, or devoid of independent existence, and are ultimately dependent on their "position" in a cultural and historical horizon. If there is no metaphysical object apart from the interpreter's engagement with it, then there is no stable phenomenon to which objectivists may appeal.
Advisor: Cass Fisher, Ph.D.
Philosophical hermeneutics
Buddhist philosophy
Comparative philosophy
Dissertations, Academic
x Religious Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


New Anti Objectivist Foundation for Gadamers Interpretive Pluralism w by Nicholas Byle A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Religious Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Co Major Professor: Cass Fisher, Ph.D. Co Major Professor: Wei Zhang, Ph.D. Michael DeJonge, Ph.D. Date of Approval: June 23, 2010 Keywords: philosophical hermeneutics, Buddhist philosophy, comparative philosophy, p metaphysics, epistemology realism, antirealism Copyright 2010, Nicholas Byle


Dedication For Natalie


Acknowledgement s First I would obviously like to thank and acknowledge my committee member Dr. DeJonge, Dr. Zhang, and Dr. Fisher, whose comments were the right combination of scolding and uplifting. I would particularly like to thank Dr. Fisher, who I have had both the pleasure and frustration the two often being interdependent, of working with often. His paternal like academic prodding has been of more help to my work and advancement than I could adequately say here. I would also like to thank Mr. Dell deChant and Dr. Paul Schneider. Though they did not contribute directly to this thesis, they have contributed more than I could say to my general academic and personal growth, particularly for teaching me the new rules and pleasures of the world in front of the classroom I would like to thank the Religious Studies department as a whole. I mean this more sincerely than the clich could convey, but the department really has become my second home. I will miss this new home and can only hope Thomas Wolfe was wrong at least in this case. Finally, I would like to thank my father Paul, who is the kindest person I have ever known, my mother Ann, who has always supported my professional and academic goals since their earliest signs in high school, and my fiance Natalie Hobbs, for the help, support, and patience during my periods of impatience. If my conclusion is correct and we are the relations we have, then I can only be better for the relations listed above, and I can only hope that the benefit was somewhat r eciprocal.


i Table of Contents Abstract ii Introduction 1 Chapter One The Problem: Gadamers Anti Objectivism 11 Saving the Human Sciences ( Geisteswissenschaft ) 11 Historically Effected Consciousness 13 Prejudices as Insurmountable Obstacles 16 Prejudices as Necessary Preconditions 17 Manifestations of the Ambiguity 20 Chapter Two 25 The Emptiness of Causality 28 33 General Consequences 42 Chapter Three The New Foundation for Gadamers Interpretive Pluralism 43 The Metaphysics of Play 44 The Epistemology of Interpretive Pluralism 53 The Text 56 Conclusion 58 References Cited 65 Bibliography 68 About the Author End Page


ii a New Anti Objectivist Foundation for Gadamers Interpretiv e Pluralism w p Nicholas Byle ABSTRACT Hans Georg Gadamer rejects objectivism, the position that an interpreter may come to a single correct truth concerning any particular object, in favor of interpretive pluralism What is not clear is how Gadamer grounds this position. This ambiguity leaves Gadamer open to multiple objectivist counters, ones which he would not wish to allow. The following argument, using a comparative and analytic approach, takes two concepts, p (interdependence) and (emptiness), as they are objectivist foundation. Specifically, the new foundation is anti realist in which interpreters and objects of interpretation are metaphysically empty, or devoid of independent existence, and are ultimately dependent on their position in a cultural and historical horizon. If there is no metaphysical object apart from the interpreter s engagement with it, then there is no stable phenomenon to which objectivists m ay appeal.


1 Introduction This paper utilizes using and p, to elucidate and support Hans Georg Gadamers philosophical hermeneutics, specifically his theory of interpretive pluralism, the view simply put, that in contrast to a single true interpretation there are multiple legitimate interpretations of an object or phenomena .1 While reading Gadamers general theory of philosophical hermeneutics it is clear that he rejects objectivism, the view that for any object of interpretation there is a single correct understanding that one can come to know regardless of the interpreters cultural and historical situatedness.2 Though his primary aim may not be the refutation of objectivism, the argument he offers in Truth and Method is meant as an exclusionary alternative to objectivism. What is not clear is whether or not he does in fact ultimately exclude objectivism, an d on what grounds he believes he has done so. Is it simply that we cannot get beyond our cultural situatedness and its requisite prejudices ( Vorurteil e) ?3 1 The phrase interpretive pluralism is borrowed from David Weberman, A New Defense of Gadamer's Hermeneutics, Philosophy and Phenomenological Review 60, no. 1 (January 2000): 45. Howe ver, variations on this phrase are fairly common in the secondary literature on Gadamer. Is it that this situatedness is necessary for any understanding at 2 See for example, Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed. (New York: Continuum, 2005), 236, 285, 297, 309, and 342. 3 As will become clear in Chapter 1, prejudice carries a negative conno tation that Gadamer wishes to rehabilitate. Some have suggested that Gadamer could have been more prudent in his choice of term, or that it should be translated as precommitment. I maintain the traditional translation of prejudice with the explicit ac knowledgment that it is meant to have both positive and negative connotations. For critiques of Gadamers choice of prejudice see James J. Dicenso, Hermeneutics and the Disclosure of Truth: A Study in the W ork of Heidegger Gadamer and Ricoeur (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1990),


2 all? These two common options which are not mutually exclusive, are not enough to ground Gadamers interpretative pluralism In fact, as Chapter One will demonstrate, Gadamers metaphysical stance and foundation for his epistemology is ambiguous.4 By turning to the concepts of (emptiness) and p (interdependence)5Questioning Gadamer and his argument s exact stance toward objectivism is in fact not new. For example, Jens Kerstcher says in his essay Gadamers Onto logy of Language Reconsidered, The aim of this essay is to outline the extent to which HansGeorg Gadamers hermeneutical ontology of language can indeed be interpreted as exemplifying an anti objectivistic conception of language and understanding. it is possible to give Gadamers epistemological position of interpretive pluralism a firm anti objectivist metaphysical foundation by moving beyond th e subject/object dichotomy, which would then not only maintain but strengthen his overall argument 6 97 102; Weberman, A New Defense of Gadamer's Hermeneutics, 47; E.D. Hirsch Jr. Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 258 64. Kertscher concludes that Gadamer does not deliver on his anti objectivist motives. Similarly, David Weberman questions whether Gadamers alternative to objectivism is as 4 Dividing epistemology from metaphysics or ontology in Gadamers (and Heideggers) work is admittedly artificial. How we are as historical beings is intimately connected with how we understand for Gadamer. But these two terms and fields are being dis tinguished for heuristic purposes of clarity. For one discussion of the relation between epistemology and ontology in Gadamer see Dicenso, 81 2. 5 When translated will be rendered as interdependence. The more traditional translations, such as dependent coarising, do not as obviously convey the terms connotations being stressed in the present argume nt. Dependent coarising has the feel of origination while interdependence focuses on the necessarily dynamic and contextual constitution of things. For other instances of being translated as interdependence see Peter D. Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere: Reorienting Global Interdependence 1st ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009); Joanna R. Macy, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural System (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991). 6 Jens Kertscher, "We Understand Differently, If We Understand at All"; Gadamer's Ontology of Language Reconsidered, in Gadamer's Century: Essays in Honor of Hans Georg Gadamer ed. Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, and Kertscher (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 136.


3 objectivist proof as Gadamer would believe. As he states, Intriguing as this view is, what exactly are Gadamers grounds for denying the existence of a uniquely correct interpretation of a text, object, or event? And how can pluralism escape relativism? Because I believe that Gadamer's writings are ambiguous on both questions, I begin by looking at the rationale underlying Gadamer's anti objectivism. 7As stated above, the following paper attempts to quell such debates by resolving this ambiguity with the aid of two Buddhist concepts, and p, which will be further explicated in Chapter Two First, rep resents a larger argument against which, though some disambiguation of its various connotations will be provided in Chapter Two may be translated as essence. As with its Western counterpart, for something to have an essence or it must exist independently of all other objects and any knowing subject. Epistemologically, this would mean that there is an objective truth about that object. If an argument against such an object as existing inherently and independently, is successf ul, then, presumably, there and p (MMK 24:18) his arguments supporting are largely based on how p functions in the particular phenomena under investigation. Though this is given much greater attention in Chapter 2, p generally asserts that nothing exists in dependent ly whether it be causally, mereologically, or While this secondary literature raises the question and points to such difficulties, they too do not make the specific point that the problem lies in how Gadamer connects his metaphysics and his epistemology. 7 Weberman, 46.


4 cognitively. Of the three, cognitive dependence is t he most vital ; for even some thing that is mereologically or causally dependent on something else requires a cognitive distinction that makes subjects and objects co dependent. This, then, makes understanding or knowledge equally dependent on the subjec t as it does on the object, again making objectivism (and even subjectivism) untenable. Though, strictly speaking, the following argument is not entirely comparative, it ht into useful dialogue. As such there are some general critiques of such approaches that must be dealt with horizons vast? And can these two concepts be extracted from the overall Madhyam aka system without carrying the entire system with them ? And are there not explicit remarks made by Gadamer himself against comparative approaches and the results they tend to produce ? This last question must be dealt with first, as it is the most threatening. Gadamer does have a few general critiques of comparative approaches. Comparison essentially presupposes that the knowing subjectivity has the freedom to have both members of the comparison at its disposal. It openly makes both things contemporar yIs it not the case that this procedure adopted in some areas of the natural sciences and very successful in many fields of the human sciences, e.g., linguistics, law, aesthetics is being promoted from a subordinate tool to central importance for defining historical knowledge, and that it often gives false legitimacy to superficial and arbitrary reflection?8 These are admittedly damning critiques of possible assumptions underlying and outcomes of comparative approaches. But must one agree with Gadamer? Are the characteristics he ascribes to such approaches necessarily essential to them? First, the argument to follow does not (pre)suppose either a universal historically transcendent consciousness or 8 Gadamer, Truth and Method 227. It should be noted that although Gadamer appears to mean by such critiques all comparative approaches, Dil theys use and justification of comparative approaches are the specific target of Gadamers general remarks.


5 my own and presumably most of my readers historical and cultural horizons, the Gad amerian system is horizonally nearer, thereby making it more accessible. Again, inaccessible to understanding. This points to a more general problem with Gadamers cri tique. How near must a horizon be for it to be accessible enough? As an American my horizon is necessarily further from Gadamers when compared to a German scholar. This surely cannot mean, however, that I or any other nonGerman scholar cannot interpre t and attempt to understand Gadamers work. Similarly, the distance between an legitimacy in such studies. Are not all such endeavors at least attempts at Gadamers fusion of horizons?9 And are not such endeavors attempts to make the text speak here and now, to make it contemporary to make the alien belong?10This then points to another secondary benefit of bringing these two systems into dialogue. Though the primary aim and the general Buddhist framework also benefit from the exchange They are brought into a contemporary philosophical dialogue justifying the relevance of their voice in such matters. There is a tendency, as Jay Garfield points out, to simply label these systems as 9 Gadamer, Truth and Method 305. 10 Gadam er, Truth and Method 295, 325; Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, trans. John Thompson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 60 1.


6 religious with the undertone that they do not have genuine philosophical import.11 Of course one may counter this by saying that Gadamers intent concerned temporal distance, that the present horizon has a past, part of which is composed of the traditionary material to be interpreted and fused philosophy generally do not belong to the Western philosophical tradition. Hopefully what follows will at least shake this illegitimate prejudice, as Gadamer would or should want. 12 However, distance need not be simply temporal or traditional. Though Gadamers emphasis is on temporal distance he notes that it is not exclusive.13 This becomes more poignant when coupled wit h Gadamers assertion that there is really only one horizon. As he states there are no isolated horizons. Rather these are merely convenient and analytically necessary divisions of a single horizon. If distance is not merely temporal but cultural, it ma y then be argued that the Madhyamaka system composes a portion of this single horizon. If this is so, then there should also be some fundamentally enabling prejudices that grant us some kind of access to it.14 In fact, Gadamers appraisal is not definit ive; support for comparative approaches exists in both his predecessors and successors. The most notable of his predecessors, 11 Jay Garfield, Philosophy, Religion, and the Hermeneutic Imperative, in Gadamer's Century: Essays in Honor of Hans Georg Gadamer ed. Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, a nd Jens Kertscher (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 97 110, esp. 99. 12 This, in fact, is not true. There are many instances in the history of Western philosophy where Eastern approaches have been influential. Leibniz and Schopenhauer are notable examples. 13 Gadamer, Truth and Method 298 and 376n. 14 Ibid., 280 and 295.


7 Martin Heidegger, had similar reservations concerning crosscultural understanding.15 However, through the course of an extended dialogue with a Japanese philosopher, Tezuka, Heidegger and his interlocutor were able to come to a more or less mutual understanding concerning their understanding of the being of language.16 Finally, though less optimistically, it is possible to conclude with Donald Davids on that though there is no basis from which to conclude that all cultural and linguistic frame works share a conceptual scheme, there is equally no basis for the conclusion that there exists conceptual schemes that are incommensurable. Using this dialogue as an impetus Wei Zhang continues, in Heide gger, Rorty, and the Eastern Thinkers, with a comparison similar to the one proposed here; though her focus concerned Heidegger and the Buddhist framework more generally. 17 We can only be char itable while attempt ing to overcome linguistic, conceptual, and horizonal differences generally, a sentiment shared by Zhang with the added emphasis of overcoming debilitating dichotomies such as East and West (or, one may add, Analytic and Continental in the horizon of Western philosophy).18 This all speaks to the positive possibility of bringing anyone for that matter) into dialogue. But what are the specific reasons for this pairing? 15See Wei Zhang, Heidegger, Rorty, and the Eastern Thinkers: A Hermeneutics of Cross Cultural Und erstanding (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007), 50 1. 16 Ibid., 57. 17 Donald Davidson, On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 47, no. 1973 1974: 20. 18 Zhang, 105. Also see Jeff Malpas' justification for his comparison of Gadamer and Donald Davidson Gadamer, Davidson and the Ground of Understanding, in Gadame r's Century: Essays in Honor of Hans Georg Gadamer ed. Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, and Jens Kertscher (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 195 6.


8 Though some of the ra tionale will be covered again at the beginning of Chapter 2, it would be beneficial to specifically state some here. First, Gadamer is an inheritor of a philosophical tradition with some general and rather difficult goals, one of which is overcoming the s ubject/object dichotomy. With Kant there was a relegation of the object as a matter of metaphysical discussion in favor of the universal subjective conditions of knowledge.19 However, the object is not completely diffused; as evident from his distinction b etween the noumenon and phenomenon, and his thingin itself. Epistemologically, this means that knowledge and understanding must adequate them sel ves to the object: Truth and error, therefore, and consequently also illusion as leading to error, are only to be found in the judgment, i.e. only in the relation of the object to our understanding. In any knowledge which completely accords with the laws of understanding there is no error.20 19 I would like to thank Michael DeJonge for reminding me of these points and providing general clarifi Hsueh Li Cheng, an Religious Studies 17, no. 1 (March 1981): 77 8. Skipping ahead, Martin Heidegger who to a great extent Gadamer is a continuation of, makes further progress in dissolving this dichotomy. Heidegger, for example, advances a theory of truth as events of disclosure of the Being of beings that are governed by historically and culturally determined relational matrices. As suc h, only within these particular modes of disclosure is truth as adequation or correspondence possible. H owever, there is a tension in Heideggers work between this approach and a tendency to hypostasize the Being of beings outside of history, culture 20 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason trans. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood, 0th ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 384.


9 and language.21 specifically to help accomplish these goals? First, there is and his commentators were kind enough to do muc h of the heavy lifting. They form a tradition that has dealt with the very issues that arise in the following arguments. Second, t he fact that they do come from a different tradition means that they do not h ave the same prejudices. Forcing ourselves and Gadamer (the more familiar) to dialogue with the less familiar forces the inherited prejudices to come to light, affording the opportunity to confront, and if necessary, alter them. Gadamer and e a profitable balance of identity and difference. Their presuppositions are similar enough to bring them into comprehensible dialogue. Yet their difference is enough to help dis close (or re open) the ontological presuppositions underlying Gadamers wor k, and question them. This then opens the possibility of using Heidegger to advance metaphysical realism and some correspondence theory of truth where the criteria of legitimate interpretation and understanding lie in the objects or beings themselves, i.e. objectivi sm. For reasons that will become clear in Chapter One such position are untenable for Gadamers interpretive pluralism insofar as it leaves him open to objectivist critiques. As such, a way must be found to ultimately move Gadamers system beyond the subject/object divide and metaphysical realism. Again, the following argument To accomplish the central aim of solidly founding Gadamers interpretive pluralism the paper will have the following structure. First, an elucidation of the general problem is necessary. As such Chapter One begins with an account o f the impetus 21 Dicenso, 768.


10 behind Gadamers anti objectivist alternative and the most explicit foundations for his interpretive pluralism. This will then allow for a critical assessment of the effectiveness of such grounding, particularly as it relates to prejudices, which will be accompanied by a brief account of secondary and critical scholarship that, whether consciously or not, is founded on the ambig uous foundations of Gadamers interpretive pluralism. With this Chapter Two using and p. of causality is used as a sample of his metap hysics. Following this is an account of the epistemological consequences of such a position. In total, this provides the tools to firmly ground Gadamers interpretive pluralism. Chapter Three begins the process of clarifying Gadamers language and founding his overall system using t hese Buddhist concepts As such, Gadamers analysis of play comes closest to the Madhyamaka account of the interdependence and emptiness of the subject and object, consequently overcoming the division between the two and objectivisms claim to any rebutta l. This fuller explication of play then allows for the reintroduction of Gadamers prejudices and the reappraisal of the more central relationship between the interpreter and the traditionary text.


11 Chapter One The Problem: Gadamers Anti Objectivism As stated in the I ntroduction, before moving on to effectively grounding Gadamers interpretive pluralism it is crucial to understand the overall goals of his Truth and Method (though the theme is common in much of the rest of his work) .22Saving the Human Sciences ( Geisteswissenschaft ) Only then is it possible to understand his critiques of objecti vism and how he believes the system he develops in Truth and Method offers the more suitable alternative of interpretive pluralism Though i n its broadest conception Gadamers work questions the ultimate or ontological ground of human understanding generally, much of this, he believes, has already been addressed by Heidegger. As such, Gadamers aim is more focused. His question undoubtedly c oncerns the human sciences, their role, their form of truth and their means at arriving at such truth.23 22 Gadamer, Truth and Method 363. Our question, by contrast [to Heideggers broader questions], is how hermeneutics, once freed from the ontological obstructions of the scientific 23 Gadamer, Truth and Method xxvxxvi, 3; Hans Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics ed. David Linge, tran s. David Linge, 2nd ed. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008), 18; Jean Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 106; Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences 59 60; Charles Guignon, Truth in Interpretation: A Hermeneutics Approach, in Is There a Single Right Interpretation?, ed. Michael Krausz (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), 274.


12 conc ept of objectivity, can do justice to the historicity of understanding.24 Though Gadamers primary concern may not be the critique of objectivism, as he believes Heidegger accomplished much of this initial task,25 his system does presuppose its untenability and whether it is critique of Kants aesthetic consciousness or historicism, Gadamer is obliged to continually point out the negative role of objectivism in the human sciences and theories of understanding generally.26According to Gadamer, w het her in the form of psychologism, as exemplified in Schleiermachers hermeneutic theory, 27 or the historicism of Dilthey,28The implicit presupposition of historical method, then, is that the permanent significance of something can first be known objectively only when it belongs to a closed context in the problem is essentially the same. Both presuppose a single truth concerning an object, such as a text. Concerning texts, psychologism places the true meaning of the text in the psychology or intentionality of the author. Historicism takes a slightly different route. While the singular subjectivity of the author was the locus of the true meaning of the text for psychologism, histori cism asserts that the meaning of a text was determined by the historical and cultural contexts in which it was created. A step closer to Gadamers position, but this approach still clung to the ideals of natural scientific meth odology. As Gadamer points out: 24 Gadamer, Truth and Method 268. 25 Gadamer, Truth and Method 245254, esp. 254; Hans Georg Gadamer, The Gadamer Reader: A Bouquet of the Later Writings ed. Richard Palmer (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 57. 26 Gadamer, The Gadamer Reader 61, 80. 27 Gadamer, Truth and Meth od 191. Also see, Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics 67 73. 28 Gadamer, Truth and Method 214. See also, Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics 84 92.


13 other words, when it is dead enough to have only historical interest. O nly then does it seem possible to exclude the subjective involvement of the observer.29 So it is clear that Gadamers critiques are aimed at the multifarious forms of objectivity that believe that there is a single truth about an object of interpretation that may be grasped once the cultural, historical and subjective contingencies of the interpreter are overcome. Hence his concomitant critique of methodologies used for the purposes of expiating such contingencies.30 Such methodologies, he states, are ba sed on a form of alienation ( Verfr e mdung) one which falsely presupposes the separation of the subject from experience. This is detrimental to the overall tasks of interpretation and understanding in so far as it may leave presupposition s unchecked and ne gate the being and purpose of experience .31Historically Effected Consciousness So that is how Gadamer understands objectivism as the attempt and the presupposition that it is possible for the interpreter or knower to remove personal and subjective contingencies in order to come to a single true understanding or knowledge of the phenomena in question. H ow then, does he counter it and propose his own alternative ? His alternative to objectivism culminates with what he terms historically effected conscious ness ( wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewutsein ).32 29 Gadamer, Truth and Method 297. Cf Ibid., 239, 2401, and 293; and Gadamer, The Gadamer Reader 35, 80, and 114 5. As Jean Grondin points out, 30 For example see Gadamer, Truth and Method, 291. 31 For example see, Ibid., 310 and 341 355, esp. 342. See also, Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences 60 1. 32 Gadamer, Truth and Method 301.


14 this term is slightly ambiguous.33 First, it may simply mean that consciousness is constituted by history or histories of effects. For example, he states, In relying on its critica l method, historical objectivism conceals the fact that historical consciousness is itself situated in the web of historical effects.34 But this term may also be prescriptive; that becoming aware of this fact, that we are historically constituted, is a he rmeneutic task of its own, and one which is never complete: Consciousness of being affected by history ( wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewutsein ) is primarily consciousness of the hermeneutical situation.35 For Gadamer, the fact that we are so a ffected, to the point of being constituted, by history, forms the most damaging counter to objectivism. As the above quotation states, being affected by history means we stand in a particular situation, which is composed of the very things we seek to interpret and understand. Coming to know that situation and the cultural and historical elements that compose it is further complicated by the fact that we are always already in it: The very idea of a situation means that we are not standing outside it and hence are unable to have any objective knowledge of it. While the latter meaning may be more concerned with t he method of Gadamers philosophical hermeneutics, the former is more related to its truth, and is therefore more relevant for current purposes. 36 33 Grond in, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics 114. See also Gadamer's o wn appraisal, Gadamer, Truth and Method xxx. 34 Ibid., 300. Though Gadamer does not make this connection as explicitly as he should, how he understands wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewutsein becomes clearer when seen through his understanding of Bildung ; see Ibid., 8 17, esp. 13. 35 Ibid., 301. 36 Ibid.


15 This, however, speaks more to the interpreters situation or horizon generally. An objectivist may grant this general difficulty without hesitation (though most likely not the a priori impossibility of overcoming it). But what of individual objects of interpretation within this situation? The real potency of his argument, and its major thrust, would then appear to be the prejudices ( Vorurteil e ) created by and, as an aggregate, composing historically effected consciousness. It is clear that by prejudice Gadamer does not intend its usual meaning; that is, a belief that is necessarily erroneous by virtue of the fact that it is methodologically or rationally unfounded.37Obviously the value and importance of research cannot be measured by a criterion based in the subject matter [i.e. a pr ejudiceless objectivity]. Rather, the subject matter appears truly significant only when it is properly portrayed for us. Thus we are certainly interested in the subject matter, but it acquires its life only from the light in which it is presented to us. Rather prejudices are born from the fact that we are always already in a situation, and that, when we encounter an object of interpretation, it is always an encounter with us in that situation For example, Gadamer states, 38 Prejudices are this light. They are then limiting predispositions that allow the interpreter to understand an object of interpretation from a set range of perspectives.39 37 For example see, Gadamer, Truth and Method, 273; Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics 9. The question then becomes how do prejudices present a necessary alternative to objectivism, such that objectivism becomes untenable? If Gadamers analysis of prejudices is correct, then there should be no room for objectivism or objectivist rejoinders. To follow are two possible interpretations of how prejudices make objectivism unt enable; though it should 38 Gadamer, Truth and Method 285. 39 For an example of Gadamer's connecting of limitation, culture and play see Hans Georg Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essay s ed. Robert Bernasconi, trans. Nicholas Walker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 124.


16 be noted that these two possibilities are really two sides of the same prejudice coin. They are only distinguished according to whether one begins with a positive or negative assessment of the role of prejudices in understanding ; Gadamer appears to argue that prejudices simultaneously function positively and negatively for understanding. 40Prejudices as Insurmountable Obstacles The first option is that prejudices are insurmountable obstacles. There is some textual support for this reading. For example, In fact history does not belong to us; we belong to it. Long before we understand ourselves through the process of self exami nation, we understand ourselves in a self evident way in the family, society, and state in which we live. The focus of subjectivity is a distorting mirror. The self awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical lif e. That is why the prejudices of the individual, far more than his judgments, constitute the historical reality of his being .41 That is, as constituted by Bildung (culture or enculturation) we always already find ourselves inescapably at least for the mo st part, in a pre given situation that carries with it precommitments on how we do or possibly could interpret and understand the world and the elements within it. If this is so, then it is impossible to always and completely foreground such precommitment s in order to arrive at an understanding of an object of interpretation strictly governed by that object apart from subjective proclivities. Though, as previously stated, Gadamers primary aim may not be to deliver a decisive blow to objectivism, his ove rall system does exclude it as a viable position; however, the prejudices as insurmountable option does not adequately do so. First, there is a possible objectivist response Even the most extreme proponents of objectivism 40 These two options are in large part borrowed from Weberman's account; in the end, however, his grounding of Gadamer's interpretive pluralism is just as vulnerable to objectivist critiques; Weberma n, 46 51. For his proposed solution, see, Ibid., 54 7. 41 Gadamer, Truth and Method 278.


17 will generally agree that the re are some obstacles created by the interpreters subjectivity. Even if they allow for the impossibility of overcoming them, objectivists may still argue that there is an ideal objective truth about the object towards which the interpreter may strive.42 Second, taken by itself prejudices as insurmountable is a superficial reading of what Gadamer finds to be the most crucial characteristic of prejudices. It is difficult to believe that anyone could give such a reading of Gadamer given the dual nature of prejudi ces. In fact, E.D. Hirsch Jr. comes close to such a reading: Here the ideal of objectivity and the objective truth of the object become the basis for criteria of validity and truth. Such criteria would move dangerously cl ose to an objective methodology, closer than Gadamer would want to allow. It will be my purpose in this final section to turn my critique of Gadamers book to good account by showing how the concept of Vorurteil has a significance far more positive than that given it in Wahrheit und Methode I shall suggestthe methodological importance of the doctrine for conducting all forms of textual interpretation.43 As the explanation of option 2 to f ollow will demonstrate, Gadamers appraisal of prejudices is also and prima rily quite positive. The fact that Hirschs reading does have some textual support is only the first sign of the ambiguity surrounding Gadamers support for interpretive pluralism and his critiques of objectivism. Prejudices as Necessary Preconditions The second option offers a stronger exclusionary alternative to objectivism though still inadequate, and appears to be the primary emphasis of Gadamers account of prejudices Here prejudices are not simply insurmountable obstacles but necessary for any understanding a t all. Some of the above quotations have already hinted at this reading. 42 Weberman, 48. 43 Hirsch, 258.


18 For sure, the first option does have some merit. Gadamer does not believe all prejudices are good or legitimate, and he does deal with how illegitimate prejudices are f ore grounded and tested.44Prejudices are not necessarily unjustified and erroneous, so that they inevitably distort the trut h. In fact, the historicity of our existence entails that prejudices, in the literal sense of the word, constitute the initial directedness of our whole ability to experience. Prejudices are biases of our openness to the world. They are simply conditions whereby we experience something whereby what we encounter says something to us. But prejudices generally, according to Gadamer, are necessary for any access to or understanding of an object of interpretation: 45 Here prejudices are not strictly undesirable though inevitable hindrances to understanding. As essential to our always already being situated in a historical and cultural horizon, prejudices form the positive possibilities of accessing any object as an object of understanding and interpretation. This is so insofar as prejudices are determined by the tradition from which they come and in which the interpreter exists. As elements of the same tradition, objects of interpretation are formed by, inform, and share in these same prejudices, thus allowing the interpreter access to the object.46 If this is true, this obviously represents a stronger critique of objectivism than the previous option. However, as Weberman points out, even this has a possible objectivist So, not only is it impossible to rid oneself of prejudices generally, it is undesirable to do so. 44 Most of Gadamer's accounts of foregrounding deal with confrontations with the text and the primarily, though not exclusively, negat ive nature of experience; see for example, Gadamer, Truth and Method 270 and 348 55 45 Gadamer, The Gadamer Reader 82. See also, Gadame r, Truth and Method, 278, 280; Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics 9. 46 This, perhaps, deals only with prejudices as they relate to temporal (or historical) distance and its positive possibilities. It does not address how what may be generally termed cultural distance may provide the possibility of understanding objects that do not belong to an historical tradition. For a sign that Gadamer acknowledges distances other than temporal see, Gadamer, Truth and Method 376 note 44. For one possible argument for why Gadamer must acknowledge different distances see, Weberman, 54 7.


19 loop hole.47Again, Hirschs reading is a convenient example of option 2 gone wrong. Perhaps in response to just this possibility, he distinguishes between meaning and significance. Significance is the relevance a text or object has for the interpreter and her current cultural milieu. Meaning is the objective truth, equivalent to the authors original intent, of the object apart from such subjective contingencies. Meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by his use of a particular sign sequence Significance on the other hand, names a relationship between that meaning and a personFailure to consider this simple and essential distinction has been the source of enormous confusion in hermeneutic theory. It is quite possible that an objectivist w ill concede that at first there must be a common background that would allow for an initial, meaningful engagement with the object. However, she could continue by arguing that this is only a useful first step. Once complete, even this cultural or histori cal commonality must be tested and critiqued according to an objective methodology. 48 47 Weberman 50. While significance may be the impetus, or even the positive possibility, of research or interpretation, it is ultimately surmountable if one wishes to come to the true meaning of the object. Again, it is obvious from Gadamers work that he does not want to lea ve such room for objectivists and their critiques. To continue with Hirschs terminology, Gadamer would, at the very least, argue for a more codependent relation between meaning and significa nce. But what position he takes on this continuum, the extremes of which are the two being nearly independent to being coextensive, is unclear. 48 Hirsch, 8.


20 Manifestations of the Ambiguity As shown above, Gadamer believes that his alternative, namely interpretive pluralism, has left no ground for objectivism; however, objectivist rejoinders are legitimate. So the ambiguity in fact lies between Gadamers conviction and whether he actually delivered on that conviction. This is particularly evident in the secondary li terature. Though there are many areas of secondary literature where this ambiguity manifests, it is perhaps most visible in the debates concerning Gadamers stance on realism particularly as it relates to his philosophy of language Therefore, a sample of this debate should be adequate to disclose the significance and byproducts of this ambiguity.49First, then, is Brice Wachterhausers account of Gadamers perspectival realism. 50 49 As a note, the following argument will use the term anti realism. Though it will be argued that this is a rather than positively. Essentially, it is just the rejection of realism, a metaphysical position often underlying epistemological objectivism. In realist dichotomy (in the positive sense), so too should Gadamer. It should also be noted that this view is by no means r ealist see Jay Garfields commentary in trans. Jay Garfield (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 103 23; and Jan Westerhoff, Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009), 207 8. Do uglas Philosophy East and West 60, no. 1 (January 2010): 40 64; and Ewing Chinn, Philosophy East and West 51, no. 1 (January 2001): 54 72. Wachterhauser notes the pluralism in Gadamers understanding of interpretation, and the inability of overcoming linguistic mediation and historical situatedness to come to a single understanding of an object. However, according to Wachterhauser this does not negate the existence of this object apart from the various perspectiv es it may be viewed from. 50 Wachterhauser, H ermeneutics and Truth ed. Brice Wachterhauser, 1st ed. (Northwestern University Press, 1994), 154.


21 But although Gadamer says that we always understand the world in a language that is our own, its important to emphasize that what we understand is not simply our own world, but the world, the one world we all have in common. G adamer is an uncompromising realistIts only within this realist framework that we can begin to understand Gadamers much misunderstood remark that being that can be understood is language.51 From this and other such statements, it is clear that Wachterhauser is advancing the position that Gadamer asserts the existence of a one and true reality composed of objects independent of our individual or human apprehension of it. The relation between the interpreter and the object of interpretation is then one in which the interpreter can never hope to ga in full access to the object itself. Wachterhauser acknowledges that history and language are the two conditions of knowledge that Gadamer thinks ma ke our knowing finite.52 Essentially, this is the same interpretation found in option 1 given above, prejudices as insurmountable. In addition, in his unique way and dealing specifically with language, Wachterhauser also acknowledges option 2, prejudic es as the positive condition for any understanding at all. On his reading, for Gadamer, language enhances or increases the intelligibility of reality.53 51 Brice Wachterhauser, Getting it Right: Relativism, Realism and Truth, in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer ed. Robert Dostal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 66. If Wachterhauser is correct, then Gadamer is vulnerable to just the type of objectivist critique s given above. Again, even a congenial objectivist may reply that while our situatedness may make an ideal objective understanding impossible, it is possible to move closer to it. If each perspective has a portion of the whole truth about an object, then quantity may in fact mean quality. Though there may be an infinite, or nearly so, number of partially true perspective s the more one gains the more truth one has and the nearer one is to the objectivist ideal. 52 Ibid., 57. 53 Ibid., 67.


22 Perhaps Gadamer did in fact hold this posit ion. The point is that according to his overall system it is not always clear that he does nor, more importantly, whether he in fact should. Gianni Vattimo, however, offers a starkly contrasting interpretation of Gadamers being that can be understood is language. As far as Warheit und Methode is concerned, the good, correct, appropriate interpretation is never so in virtue of its correspondence to a previously set truthOn the contrary, one should rather say that things are what they truly are, only wit hin the realms of interpretation and language. In other words, a consistent formulation of hermeneutics requires a profound ontological revolution, because ontology must bid farewell to the idea of an objectified, external Being to which thought should st rive to adequate itself.54 And addressing general interpretations similar to Wachterhausers, Vattimo warns that if such a reading were true then, Gadamer would be limiting his doctrine to the domain of the human sciences, and he would imply a sort of objectivism and metaphysical realism.55 While it is not clear whether or not Gadamer does endorse metaphysical realism, it should go without question that he abjures objectivism. If objectivism and metaphysical realism are as closely linked as Vattimo asserts, one may question whether Gadamer should or even could endorse the latter.56 At this point a short digression into Gadamer relation to metaphysics is in order. Defining metaphysics is obviously not simple. Classic or old metaphysics generally 54 Gianni Vattimo, Gadamer and the Problem of Ontology, in Gadamer's Century: Essays in Hon or of Hans Georg Gadamer ed. Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, and Jens Kertscher (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 301. 55 Ibid. M etaphysical realism is simply the view that objects exist and exist with certain properties independent of a nyones beliefs, linguistic practices, conceptual schemes and so on.Alexander Mil ler, Realism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Drew Khlentzos, Semantic Challenges to Realism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sem challenge/. 56 Vattimo app ears to give Gadamer the benefit of the doubt believing that Gadamer could not have endorsed metaphysical realism because of this close connection to objectivism. Vattimo, 302.


23 de als with questions of being, first causes, and immutable things, as well as positions that answer these questions negatively.57 Adding to the confusion post Medieval or new metaphysics includes questions of modality, space, time, mereology, free will and so forth.58How Gadamer understands metaphysics is as difficult to discern as the word itself, and is in large part the subject of the following argument. Being a more or less good student of Heidegger, Gadamers metaphysical concerns in general deal with questions of being and time. However, Gadamer is not an obsequious follower of Heidegger. G adamer does agree th at being and understanding as event s are constituted by time thereby rejecting substance ontology. For the purposes of this argument, metaphysics is vaguely defined as questions and assertions concerning being(s) and ultimate existents. 59 However, he was not as critical of metaphysics and its Western history as Heidegger.60 For Gadamer, metaphysics, particularly its Platonic forms, still has something to contribute, and that some form of metaphysics always underlies language.61 57 Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.s Obviously, this does not satisfactorily answer what Gadamers metaphysics is, but this is what is at issue. If this were not a point of 58 Ibid. As van Inwagen notes such issues were not overlooked by ancient and medieval philosophers, they were simply categorized differently. 59 For example see, Gadamer, Truth and Method, 24554, esp. 246, 248. Also see David E. Linge, Dilthey and Gadamer: Two Theories of Historical Understanding, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 41, no. 4 (Decembe r 1973): 549 and 551; Joel Weinsheimer, Gadamer's Hermeneutics: A Reading of Truth and Method (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 256. 60 For example see Martin Heidegger, Basic Writ ings ed. David Krell (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008), 115 138, esp. 137 8.; Brice Wachterhauser, Beyond Being: Gadamer's Post Platonic Hermeneutic Ontology (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999), 36 7; Robert Dostal, Gadam er: The Man and His Work, in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer ed. Robert Dostal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 30. 61 Wachterhauser, Beyond Being 11, 13, and 36 7; Weinsheimer, Gadamer's Hermeneutics 249 50.


24 contention then the answer tha t the following argument is intended to be would have no question, and the secondary scholarship would not be as divided. With this, Gadamers ambiguity, between his epistemology and metaphysics, once more becomes apparent Again, he unambiguously critiques objectivisms assertion that it is possible to come to a single true understanding of an object of interpretation. And in its strongest and clearest terms this seems to be due to the necessity of prejudices for there to be any encounter at all between the interpreter and the object. But it has been shown how objectivists may circumvent this option. While something like perspectival (or multiplist) realism allows for pluralism (and attempts to overcome relativism or int erpretive nihilism), it does not allow for the strong critiques Gadamer makes of objectivism. So the question again is, is there a foundation that will both guard against objectivist rejoinders and cohere with Gadamers overall system? The answer is yes and is the subject of the next chapter. Ultimately, the goal is to provide a new firm anti objectivist metaphysics for Gadamers interpretive pluralism, which is the subject of Chapter Three. Before doing so, however, the coming chapter gives a comparati vely metaphysical argument against along with its epistemological consequences. This provides the material for the new foundation.


25 Chapter Two : Emptiness and Interdependence As the last chapter demonstrated, the fact that Gadamer rejects objectivist epistemology while offering interpretive pluralism as an exclusionary alternative is clear. The ultimate metaphysical ground of these assertions, however, is not. The specific source of this ambig uity, as the above section on the secondary literature shows, is ultimately Gadamers metaphysics and its relation to his epistemology. It is the goal of this chapter to set the foundation for correcting this problem. As one might expect from the I ntroduction supply the means to this goal As such used as a sample case for how p, and function. particular argument is, arguably, the strongest and has the broadest application. Following this will be the epistemological arguments and consequences entailed b y such a view. Before continuing to necessary. First, aside from the general positive possibilities for bringing Gadamer and into dialogue, there is a more specific similarity that make s t his endeavor possible As stated in the Introduction, both operate in system s or at least attempt to do so, that aim to overcome the subject/object divide. Though quotes and citations given


26 above from Gadamer should be sufficient to demonstrat e at least his attempt to do so, for the sake of reinforcement one more may be added: Our line of thought prevents us from dividing the hermeneutic problem in terms of the subjectivity of the interpreter and the objectivity of the meaning to be understood. This w ould be starting from a false antithesis that cannot be resolved even by recognizing the dialectic of subjective and objective.62Someone is disclosed by something. Gadamers point is stronger than it may at first appear. Overcoming the division between the subjective and the objective must move beyond a dialectic where with. purposes. Somet hing is disclosed by someone. How could there be someone without something, And something without someone? (MMK 9:5)63 particular use in disambiguating, if not Gadamers actual position then at least the one he should have chosen given his general aims. Second, one must note the argumentative consequence of asserting universal emptiness. There, in fact, is no master or meta argument for work. With the fall of objective existence comes the fall of general methodology. Rather individual arguments must be found and applied according to the particular phenomena 62 Gadamer, Truth and Method 309. 63 eral attempts to overcome the subject/object dichotomy see The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way 184; Tsong Khapa, trans. Jay Garfield and Geshe Ngawang Samten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 26 and 239; Alfonso Verdu, The Philosophy of Buddhism: A "Totalistic" Synthesis 1st ed. (Hague: Martinus Nihoff Publishers, 1981), 104 5.


27 under investigation.64Third and finally, a brief word on and what it means to have it. Literally, it may be rendered ow nbeing, self existence, self nature, and so forth. The primary requirement to have is independence, specifically being causally, mereologically, and conceptually independent. With this in mind the first argument for to follow should be taken as a case example of how and p entail a lack of ; the minutia of the argument and some of its larger structural elements may only applicable to this particular class of phenomena. 65 There is some difficulty in finding an exact match in Western p hilosophy. For example, haecceity or quiddity would not always be equivalent. Take the classic Buddhist example of fire and heat. Heat is the of fire. This may be shared by all instances of fire, and may even be shared by such antitheses as water. The difference here is that fire has heat necessarily, while water obtains it through depends on sources of heat. Yet, in discussions of identity and difference does appear to carry the above connotations.66 Yet there is also a history, to repl ies that strongly suggest that should be understood as substance. Take, for example, the Abhidharmic attempt to circumvent substantialism using propertyparticulars.67 64 Westerhoff, s Madhyamaka 16 17, and 92; The Dispeller of Disputes: Nagarjuna's Vigrahavyavartani, trans. Jan Westerhoff (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 94. Though both substance and essence have their merits as tran slations, neither completely fill s the position. For no other reason than 65For example, see MMK 15:18; Jan Westerhoff, (New Yo rk: Oxford University Press, 2009), 27, 3241; Khapa, 31722. 66 Khapa, 119; Verdu, 109. 67 Mark Siderits, Buddhism as Philosophy: An Introduction (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2007), 113 19; Westerhoff, s Madhyamaka, 326; Verdu, 94 7.


28 what seems to be convention, when is translated, it will be translated as essence. The important point is that to have is to have some quality or nature that may not be altered without the object becoming something else. As such, despite interrelation or change the remains the same. The ultimate goal of such arguments is to demonstrate not that nothing exists, but that what does exist is interdepend ent, particularly on the human subject. This has the consequence of not only dispelling notions of an metaphysically objective reality to which human understanding must comport, but also of dispelling the counter notion that what is taken as real or tr ue is simply subjective and relative. For Gadamer, the former will mean that there is no object apart from the subject to which truth must correspond. It will not simply be, as with Kant, that reason cannot get to this object as it is apart from the sub ject, for there is no in itself, but rather the object does not exist without the subject. The latter, i.e. the overcoming of subjectivism, is dealt with briefly in the Conclusion, and is what demonstrates how Gadamer is able to reject objectivism while not falling into an anything goes approach. The Emptiness of Causality Despite the above disclaimer stating that the following argument concerning causation should not be taken as a universal argument for it is nevertheless a central and, for p resent purposes, appropriate example. Causality is one of the fundamental human categories for the interpretation of phenomena and reality As such, demonstrating the of causality has general metaphysical ramifications even if not all of the det ails of the argument are universally applicable. Further and as alluded to above, it will have more specific consequences for epistemology.


29 I action in Chapter VIII of the MMK. This existent agent Does not perform an existent action. Nor does some nonexistent agent Perform some nonexistent action (MMK 8:1) middle path, attempts to navigat e between the extremes of substantialism, represented by the first two lines, and nihilism corresponding to the second two lines. The reader may recall that Gadamer, following Heidegger, rejects substance ontology and the corresponding belief that the object presents itself in a self evident way to the subject in favor of the assertion that it is only within pre given interpretive frameworks (modes of however, as t nothing outside of these interpretive frameworks and that those frameworks that suppose otherwise fall into an inevitable contradiction. An existent entity has no activity. There would also be action without an agent. An existent entity has no activity. There would also be agent without action (MMK 8:2). the above verse assumes some background knowledge on the part of the reader. This verse represents a reply to an assumed opposition. Here, the opponents assertion is that the agent has Again, having entails a lack of change or alteration of the phenomenas essential nature. This also entails th at there cannot be alternation or change in ; if this were so, then that particular phenomena would cease to be that phenomena. This is the point of An existent entity has no activity. Activity necessary


30 for action on the part of the agent nece ssarily entails change, more specifically change that is dependent on action.68 Of course, the assertion that activity entails change on the part of the agents essence may seem odd. Could there not be independent existent things and change? Take a simplified version of atomic theory for example. According to this theory physical real ity is composed of unchanging substances, and what change is perceive d is the rearrangement of these basic physical constituents. Therefore, to maintain the essence of the agent, that essence must be independent of the action. This would make it possible for there to be an action without an agent. 69 This on its own may still be unconvincing particularly for those that hold a substance/property ontology. Here change would be change in the properties that adhere to a substance rather than in the substance itself. Though So, a bicycle as an aggregate of atoms may not have independent existence, but the individual atoms composing the bicycle do. Why would be ultimately incompatible with this view? The answer is a familiar problem in the philosophy of science and epistemology. The curious consequence of such aggregationist explanations is that they become further and further removed f rom the empirical realm, and become ever more theoretical to the point where contemporary physics is even unable to empirically test such explanations. Remember that one requirement for objectivism and independent existence is independence from a cognizing subject. A s explanations come to this hyper theoretical point, they become ever more, even completely, reliant on cognizing subjects. 68 using change see MMK 13. 69 Buddhism as Philosophy 109110.


31 this position particularly in his analysis of motion (MMK 2), it is not of current relevance, particularly since Gadamer has already rejected this position. If a nonexistent agent Were to perform a nonexistent action, Then the action would be without a cause And the agent would be without a cause (MMK 8:3). The first consequence of this verse is obvious and, ostensibly, uncontroversial; with neither an agent nor an action there is no cause for the action. It also serves as a warning against the nihilistic interpretation of emptiness, a consequence that will become more important when the general metaphysical consequences of are delineated later and when such consequences are applied to Gadamers interpretive pluralism. The next consequence of the verse is more controversial and requires a more robus t defense. Without an action there is no agent. The first connotation of this statement is fairly uncontroversial. If there is nothing that is labeled as action, then there is nothing deserving the label agent. So, a carpenter may be labeled as agent of the action building a table. If there is no building of the table, then the carpenter could not be the agent of that action. However, this does not mean that the carpenter is essentially altered by this. This would be fairly unimpressive if this were all that The stronger interpretation is that the carpenter is essentially different depending on whether or not the building of the table occurs. Here dependence is existential. Jan Westerhoff defines existential dependence as suc h: [an] object x is essentially F, and if it also depends notionally on some y being G, then x will also depend existentially on ys being G, since x has to have F to exist at all (this is just what F being an essential


32 property of x means.70Unfortunately for the hypothetica l opponent this only weakens the argument n MMK 1:114. Conditions such as water, lighting, soil, the seed and so forth constitute the conditions of the causal field, all of which are necessary for the production of the tree. But what allows one to attribute causal efficacy to these conditions for the creation of a tree? Put differently, by what fact are these conditions and not others, grouped together and yet not all of the time ? Causal efficacy cannot simply be attributed to the seed, water and so forth individually; nor is it enough that they all exist. The tree is this factor; without the tree there would be no reason to group together these conditions and label them as cause. This will become particularly important when reanalyzing Gadamers play and its metaphysical consequences. p is the process by which all phenomena arise. In Gadamers analysis of art and aesthetics, play is the process by which the work of art arises. The problem, however, which is given greater attention in Chapter Three, is whether or not the elements in play have objective For exampl e, t ake a seed to be x and a tree to be y. Here the tree (y) has the essential property (G) of being caused by the seed (x). This seems fairly uncontroversial, but this still leaves the controversial assertion that the seed (x) has the essential property (F) of having caused, or having the power to cause, the tree. If this were not the case, then the necessity of causality itself would be undermined. One wo uld then not be able to reliably predict the effect given the presence of its cause. The usual re ply would be that causality itself accounts for such inefficacy. Improper watering, soil conditions, and so forth may all account for the inability of the seed to cause the tree. 70 Westerhoff, s Madhyamaka 28.


33 against objectivism. So, from the above arguments it is obvious that effect is dependent on the cause, and, contrary to convention, the cause or causal conditions are dependent on the effect. This interdependence ( p ) entails their lack of A word of caution is needed however. Despite what may be the readers instinctual reaction when seeing the words empty or emptiness, it does not entail nonexistence. It k that this is not his intended conclusion. One need only look to the opening verse of the MMK and keep in mind the literal meaning of Madhyamaka, the Middle Way, to realize this. nihilism. Things do exist, from the tree to its leaves and roots. Though under analysis these things breakdown into dependence relations. For instance, t he tree depends mere ologically on its leaves, branch es and roots; it depends causally on the seed, water, sun and soil; and as will become vital shortly, it depends cognitively on the subject. It is the subject that distinguishes between the seed and the tree and unifies the leaves, branches and roots into the tree. The conclusion of the last section requires some elucidation, particularly given its vit al has its epistemological counterpart. As such, the following argument concerns the relation betwe en the knower, the means of knowledge ( pram a) and the objects of knowledge ( prameya ) As one may expect the general conclusion of the argument will be that all


34 three are mutually interdependent and may be characterized only in relation to the others. As such, they are empty, though again not in the sense of ineffectiveness or nonexistence. epistemology share much in common. If this is correct, then it should be appropriate to adapt The first argument, then, concerns the dependent relation between the knower and the means to knowledge, specifically sight though the argument is intended to be exhaustively applicable to all means of knowledge .71That very seeing does not see A s before, an opponent advocating for Itself at all. How can something that cannot see itself See another? (MMK 3:2) Though somewhat obscure, this verse is meant as an initial and quick refutation of sight having The opponent assumes that sight, or any other means to knowledge, has an independent existence. This would require it to have an essence or nature, which being the faculty of sight would be seeing. However, if it had independent existence it would not require either a subject (seer) or an object (seen). But what then would this floating seeing see? It is only left with itself, meaning that there co uld be visual apperception, which is not possible. So, seeing cannot be the essence of sight. Most including Gadamer, would not argue with faculties or means of knowledge being dependent on something; this something generally being the subject. However, 71 testimony, and likeness ; see The Dispeller of Disputes 67.


35 qua seer also does not exi s t independently. Without detachment from vision there is no seer. Nor is there a seer detached from it. If there is no seer How can there be seeing or the seen? (MMK 3:6) Here, the first line asserts that seer and seeing cannot be identical; this follows from the previous argument. Nor are the seer and seeing essentially different; though this follows from the above argument for the interdependence of agent and action, it also follows from the immediately preceding verses. To say that seer and seeing are essentially different allows for the action of seeing t o take place without a subject or agent of seeing N the obvious consequences; if there is no seer there could be no seeing or seen. Again, the interdependence of seer and seeing may not be controversial; what is not as conventionally obvious is the interdependence of seeing and seen. With this the question concerns how the mean s of knowledge and the objects of knowledge are established. Here establish may simply mean to discover and determine the properties of something. So as an analogy, if one wishes to establish the dimensions of a box, one may simply use a ruler or measuring tape.72 More fundamentally, to establish means to justify; so the question, H ow does one justify the reliability of the means to knowledge, is implied in the following argument.73 72 The Dispeller of Disputes 30. The conventional understanding would be that the means of knowledge establish, as in obtain information about, the objects of knowledge, and that the means are then in turn somehow justified in their ability and 73 See for example, Ibid., 31.


36 reliability to d the means and objects of knowledge are mutually established, interdependent, and, therefore, empty. If one affirms that means of knowledge establish objects of knowledge, one also ha s to account for how the means are established; how does one know the properties of the means that allow for such information and how are they justified? There are two premises that must be kept in mind: (1) means of knowledge is meant as an encompassi ng term for all the ways we have access to the world and (2) these means also exist in the world; that is, they may also become objects of knowledge.74 One possible response is that any specific means of knowledge is establish ed by one or more other means of knowledge. So perception may be established by inference and testimony. infer a possible response. I hear a load noise and judge that it is a thunder clap. What justifies my auditory perception in supposing this rather than a car backfire hallucination, or what have you? First, I may have the testimony of the weatherperson telling me that thunder storms would be coming through my area. I also receive other perceptual cues such as rain, dark clouds, and so forth. Through memory I know that when these perceptual cues occur together there is often thunder. Altogether these may be used to justify my perception of thunder In turn, this may also justify my other means; I have evidenc e to suppor t the weatherpersons testimony and m y visual perception. This does in fact seem to be our usual engagement with the world, but are any of these means thereby established? Here, one may argue that the means are established by mutual 74 The Dispeller of Disputes 69 70.


37 coherence, what may be a more polite term for circularity.75 Remember, however, that according to a substantialist or objectivist view, the means of knowledge are meant to establish independently existing things (things with ). Coherentism cannot give us an account of how this occurs or whether it in fact does occur.76 The second possible response is a variation on the first. Rather than the means to knowledge being established by the other recognized means to knowledge, there is an additional means to knowledge with the prope rty of being able to reliably represent the world. Though in the first few steps of justification and establishment perception is justified by other means to knowledge, ultimately those means become dependent on perception for their establishm ent. The objects themselves never enter in, and therefore how or whether the means establish the objects is not given. So, the means as established by other means is not a viable option. 77 The next option is that the means of knowledge do not require establishment or are inherently established. Remember, however, that according to the objectivist position the means to knowledge are our access to the world and exist in the world. So, if the But how is this means established and justified? It woul d seem to require another means leading to an infinite regress. In general, such regresses should be avoided; here specifically one never gets the grounding that the means are supposed to supply. 75 For an account of how coherentism may not necessaril y lead to circularity see, Laurence Bonjour, The Structure of Empirical Knowledge, in Epistemology: Contemporary Readings (New York: Routledge, 2002), 390 2. However, the present argument does not turn on whether or not coherentism is circular. 76 For another account of the failings of this type of epistemology see William P. Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 73. 77 The Dispeller of Disputes 30.


38 means to knowledge do not require establishment, then there is something in the world that does not require establishment.78 If the means exist in the world and yet do not require establishment, then conceivably there are other objects in the world that do not require establishment. If one holds this position, one cannot simply presuppose that objects of knowledge require establishment. One would then need to justify why objects of knowledge require establishment. Of course, one may reply that in establishing the objects, the means simultaneously establish th emselves. Aside from other various retorts, this returns the objectivist to the above problem of sight seeing itself.79 There is also the problem that if the means were self established, then they would be independent of the objects of knowledge, return ing to the above problem of the independent nature of cause and effect. However, means to knowledge are means to knowledge of something. For example, visual perception corresponds to certain qualia such as color.80 This then exhausts the ways in which the means may be established by other means or by themselves. Means as somehow established by their objects then seems to remember that his rejection is contingent on the opponents assertion that though the objects may establish the means both still exist with If the means to knowledge were truly independent, then it would be difficult to justify what they are means to knowledge of, if anything. 78 The Dispeller of Disputes 31. 79 The Dispeller of Disputes 31 The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way 28 30. 80 For a contemporary Western account of the relation between "inputs" and m eans to knowledge or "doxastic practices" see Alston, 153 5.


39 The objectivist may grant that the means are established by their objects. Behind this, again, is the assumption that such objects exist with ; so they are in some sense prior to the means of knowledge. Unfortunately, to arrive at this one must first use knowledge of the objects obtain ed through the means of knowledge in order to establish what counts as a particular means of knowledge. To do this would require the means of knowledge and their previous establishment, making their establishment through their objects unnecessary.81 Of course, one could give the absurd reply that the objects of knowledge are somehow established wit hout the benefit of any means of knowledge. Fr om this it would seem then that one has direct access to the objects of knowledge, thereby making the means themselves unnecessary.82 the means of knowledge are established by their objects the relation is then reversed. 83 If the point of means to knowledge is to do the establish ing and the objects of knowledge function to establish the means, then the object s in fact become the means of knowledge and the means of knowledge bec ome the objects. The objectivist may, in fact, have no problem with this. The point, however, is that this is another instance of circularity with no grounding and therefore no means to get to the of either the means or their objects.84 81 The Dispeller of Disputes 33. It is no well with his assertions of emptiness and interdependence; his point, rather, is that his 82 Ibid. 83 Ibid., 33 4. 84 Ibid., 34.


40 opponents would find circularity untenable and that circularity and cannot co exist The point of all these objections to the various options is to demonstrate that an object is not an object of knowledge intrinsically (through ) nor are means means to knowledge intrinsically. Visual perception is only a means to knowledge in virtue of having something to see; reciprocally an object is only an object of knowledge according to the ways in which it interacts with various means of knowledge. Further, the object as we understand it, is composed of the artificial cognitive assemblag e of information gained through the various means of knowledge. So, objects as objects and means as means are determined by the context in which the investigation occurs. One may also take this argument beyond the mutual dependence relation between the means of knowledge and the objects of knowledge. As the above arguments have shown, there is also a mutual dependence between the kn ower and the means to knowledge. So, if x is dependent on y and y is dependent on z, then x must also be dependent on z. There is then a reciprocal dependence between the knower and the objects of knowledge. There are then roughly two general consequences to this epistemology. First, the existence of objects of knowledge allow s one to divide methods or sources of knowledge and label them as means to knowledge. If some method did not provide access to objects of knowledge they would not be justifiably considered means of knowledge; in fact, they most likely would not be recognized at all.85 85 One example of this would be Alston's attempt to establish a "new" means to knowledge or doxastic practice, Christian mystical perception, based on its correspondence with, and ability to grant access to an aspect of reality, God, not generally covered by other means; Alston, Perceiving God Second, at the same time and as already


41 stated, the means of knowledge create the objects of knowledge by aggregating the various forms of information. For example, what one understands as a particular chair is a confluence of color, shape, spatiotemporal location, texture, and so forth gathered and combined through perception. This would be a more conventional account, but one could include other means as well. If one doubts whether something were a chair, then the testimony of a carpenter may clear up the matter. Or through socialization, another form of test imony, one comes to know the general family traits of a chair. This then allows one to store in memory examples of chairs with which to judge future cases of possible chairs. An immediate point of comparison and similarity between Gadamer and may be made here. Gadamer argues for the dependence of the object of interpretation on the particular mode of investigation. He states, for example, The theme and object of research are actually constituted by the motivation of the inquiry. Hence histo rical research is carried along by the historical movement of life itself and cannot be understood teleologically in terms of the object into which it is inquiring. Such an object in itself clearly does not exist at all.86 86 Gadamer, Truth and Method 285. For Gadamer, then, the prejudi ces of an interpreter as a historian, exegete, sociologist and so forth in part construct the object begins with perhaps the most takenfor granted relation between subject and object, perception. Once perception as our most basic engagement with the world, is shown to be based on interdependence of the perceiver, perception and the perceived, then the


42 contextual dependency of the object of interpretation on the mode of investigation because an easy and perhaps inevitable step. General Consequences is is dependent on the relations it has. As such there is no immutable substance underlying phenomena. Obviously this is in direct opposition to objectivism; if there is no stable substance, essence, or nature to an object, then there is no stable truth of that object. The scope of this position will become more apparent in the next chapter when it is used to correct and rebuild Gadamers system. Also, as detailed above this position has a concomitant effect in epistemology. Part of the context of relations an object has, particularly as an object of knowledge, is its relationship wit h the knower, which also happens to be determined by contextual relations of which the objects is apart. Ones knowledge, or understanding, of an object would then be equally unstable. In matters of interpretation and understanding this, as will be the topic of the coming chapter, gives a firm grounding to Gadamers interpretive pluralism.


43 Chapter Three The New Foundation for Gadamers Interpretive Pluralism As Chapter One demonstrated Gadamers system requires a rejection of objectivism, but the exact grounds for and strength of that rejection in favor of interpretive pluralism is ambiguous. The most likely and apparent candidates for Gadamers rejection of objectivism, historically effected consciousness and prejudices, whether as positive possi bilities for or the limit of understanding, are not enough, at least unless they are coupled with an objectivist proof metaphysics. Otherwise this would leave open the possibility for objectivist rejoinders. Chapter Two presented metaphysical and epistem impossible. Metaphysically there are no independent objects with an essence or underlying substance to stabilize truth and meaning of those objects. Rather objects as objects and su bjects as subjects are determined or arise according to their relative positions in a network of relations. Epistemologically, then, objects of understanding or knowledge do not have an independent existence ( ), but are rather constituted or deter mined by the context in which they occur, the most important relation in this context being the relation between knower and known or interpreter and interpreted. The goal of the present chapter is then to synthesize these two systems in such a way as to l eave Gadamers philosophical hermeneutics, particularly its epistemology, largely intact while giving it the firm antiIn fact, the clearest point


44 of connection between these two systems occurs with Gadamers analys is of play. It is here that Gadamer comes closest to a Madhyamaka metaphysics as presented in Chapter Two. With some slight amending and elucidation it should then be possible to give Gadamer a firmly antiobjectivist metaphysics based on play. The Metaphysics of Play Gadamer first introduces play as a means to analyze aesthetics and art, though its significance is much broader as will be seen shortly.87 Play, according to Gadamer, is the mode of being of art: When we speak of play in reference to the experience of art, this means neither the orientation nor even the state of mind of the creator or of those enjoying the work of art, nor the freedom of a subjectivity engaged in play, but the mode of being of the work of art itself.88Gadamer intends play to explain what occurs between the spectator, which may include the museum patron, the audience of a drama, the artist herself, and so forth, and the art object. The point here is to overcome previous aesthetic theories, such as Kants, that presuppose that the nature of art exists either in the object or in the subjectivity of the spectator. 89 For example, The subject of the experience of art, that which remains and endures, is not the subjectivity of the person who experiences it but the work itself.90 87 See Gadamer's own later appraisal, Gadamer, The Gadamer Reader 115. Here, subjectivity is removed, but one may point to the conclusion of the quotation, the work itself, and argue that Gadamer is placing art in t he object, 88 Gadamer, Truth and Method 102. 89 See for example Gadamer, Truth and Method 77 87; Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful 18 21. 90 Gadamer, Truth and Method 103.


45 whether it is the sculpture, the painting, or what have you. Here the truth of the art would lie in the object itself, i.e. objectivism. For reasons provided in Chapter One, this position is untenable given Gadamers larger goals.91 With this there would be one truth, rather than a plurality of truths, concerning the work of art. This position also misunderstands what the work itself is for Gadamer.92First, play is a process. Since the being of the work itself is play, play must be further elucidated in order to cla rify what the work of art is for Gadamer. 93 More importantly it is a to and fro medial process that takes place in between.94 From this medial nature of play Gadamer argues for the irrelevance of the subjectivities of the individ ual players to play itself. For play has its essence independent of the cons ciousness of those who play.95 A s a supporting example he notes that there can be a play of colors, which does not mean that it is one color versus another but that play in this instance is a processual changing of colors.96 91 In an effort to help avoid confusion on the part of the reader, the terms object and work are given fairly specific meanings in the following analysis. Object, in phrases such as art object or object of art, refers to the thing that is commonly attributed as a rt, such as the sculpture, painting or poem themselves; where as work refers to the phenomena of art itself. The purpose of much of the analysis to follow is to disambiguate the two, demonstrate that for Gadamer there is a difference, and elucidate the significance of this difference. The art object, 92 Gadamer later implicitly acknowledges the ambiguity of this phrase when he advances Gebilde creation or construction, as a preferable alternative, Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful 126. 93 Gadamer, Truth and Method 104, 107, and 109. 94 Gadamer, Truth and Method 104 and 109. 95 Ibid., 103. Though this will be taken up later, this does not mean that players generally are irrelevant to play. For Gadamer, there is a difference between the players and the subjectivities of the players. Endorsing the latter would move Gadamer too close to previous aesthetic theories that advocate that art is located within the spectator. 96 Ibid., 104.


46 in distinction to the work itself, such as the painting or sculpture, then becomes another player in the play of art.97 One clue to this fact is Gadamers insistence that presentation is essential to the work of art for it only manifests and displays itself when it is constituted in the viewer . 98The work of art cannot simply be isolated from the contingency of the chance conditions in which it appears, and where this kind of isolation occurs, the result is an abstraction that reduces the actual being of the work. It itself belongs to the world to which it represents itself. A drama really exists only when it is played, and ultimately music must resound. The script of the drama, the score of the music, or the paint of the painting do not become works of art unless their mode s of presentation are fulfilled. The work must be seen, heard, and so forth. 99 Gadamers analysis of drama is a useful example here. Where does the art or play of drama lie? It cannot simply lie in the single subject, nor can it lie in any intersubjective agreement between the subjectivities of the spectators, i.e. the audience.100So with the use of play as the essence or being of art, Gadamer argues that art exist s neither in the subject (spectator, artist, and so forth) nor in the object (s) Rather the work of art exists in the dep endent relation between the two; the drama arises at the confluence It would be more common to place it in the actions occurring on stage, but this too misses the point. Aside from the obvious interdependence of the stage action on the script, stage, individual actors and so forth, the drama is only drama if it is presented to an audience. 97 For a similar assertion see Gerald Bruns, The Hermeneutical Anarchist: Phronesis, Rhetoric and the Experience of Art, in Gadamer's Century: Essays in Honor of Hans Georg Gadamer ed. Jeff Malpas, Ulrich Arnswald, and Jen s Kertscher (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002), 61. 98 Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful 126. Also see Gadamer, Truth and Method 115. 99 Ibid. 100 Ibid., 121.


47 of all these elements. There is then no self existe nt independent essence of drama to which one could point. one sees the point. As an analogy, the tree is t he drama that arises at the intersection of dependence relations. Just as the tree depends mereologically on the leaves, branches and roots which are also not mereologically basic ; so too does the drama depend on the actors, stage and so forth. The tree causally depends on the seed, water and so forth; while the drama depends on the writer, director and so forth. Finally, as the tree is cognitively united and divide in order to be identified as the tree, so too is the drama; the perceiver of the tree is the audience of the drama. Th e perceiver and the audience would be equally incorrect to suppose their own independence from the phenomena they are observing. The tree and the drama only arise in relation to them. At this point something else particular ly interesting occurs ; t he divisions between causal, mereological and cognitive dependence begin to breakdown. Remaining with the audience, it is not simply cognitively necessary; the audience is a (mereological) part of the drama and composes part of the causal field giving rise to it. Elucidating Gadamers transformation into structure helps to clarify th ese point s Only through this change [the transformation into structure] does play achieve ideality, so that it can be intended and understood as play. Only now does it emerge as detached from the representing of players and consist in the pure appearance ( Erscheinung ) of what they are playing.101 101 Gadamer, Truth and Method 110. In the process of play occurring between the players something new arises, such as the above drama Gerald Bruns presents another


48 helpful example .102 He uses Duchamp and his ready made art as an extreme case where the answer to what this transformation is becomes mo st obvious. Duchamp presents a snow shovel or urinal as his latest work of art and it i n fact does become art. Ostensibly, however, there is no objective difference between the snow shovel (the object) and Duchamps art (the work ) How then does the shovel become art? First, there is Gadamers transformation into structure. [W]hat exist ed previously [such as the snow shovel or urinal] exists no longer,103One may ask a similar question of chess, which does not as conveniently fit the subject/object distinction and something new arises. This transformation occurs because the object is transplanted into a world of play constituted by relations that create something anew in the mediated presentation between the object and the spectator. The snow shovel or urinal is placed in the world, or game, of art in which there are participants or players, among which is the shovel itself. Arising between the shovel and the other participants is that parti cular work of art. 104 In keeping with Gadamers linguistic analysis,105 what does it mean to call something a game of chess? The game is not on the chess board; this would artificially cut off the players and violate the medial nature of play. Nor is the game strictly speaking in the players or in a relation between their subjectivities or experiences.106 102 Bruns, 62. Rather the chess game comes to life, comes t o presentation, as 103 Gadamer, Truth and Method 111. 104 For art one may theoretically isolate the piece of art as object and the spectator as subject, where as in a game of chess or tennis this is not as easily done. 105 Gadamer, Truth and Method 104. 106 Ibid., 121.


49 Gadamer prefers, or unfolds in the world that is created by all three objects.107 One may see for using interdependence and Gadamers analysis of play. In a sense, and in this begins with a phenomena that seemingly has inherent existence, such as a tree, and through reductio demonstrates that this phenomena in fact does not have inherent existence. In contrast, Gadamer begins with multiple seemingly independent phenomena such as the audience, the actors, the stage, the script and so forth, and demonstrates how such phenomena combine in such a way to give rise to a new dependent phenomenon, the drama In both cases the phenomenon under investigation is dependent on the context in which it occurs. Though the shovel as a work of art is dependent on the shovel as object the work of art is equally dependent on the world in which it exists, and the su bjects that inhabit that world. So as the world and subjects change so too does the shovel as a work of art. However, it is this divergence in the direction of Gadamers and analyses that makes the difference, particularly when dealing with how there may be multiple true interpretations rather than a single objective truth. There is, then, now only one object the game (or work) of chess itself. The problem becomes most apparent when one asks the following question: D o the actors in the drama, its script, the shovel as object the chessboard and its players and so forth have essential existence independent of the play in which they engage? This is the crucial question for both providing a firm foundation for Gadamers interpretive 107 Put in such terms, one may see the parallels with Ricoeurs understanding of the world that unfolds in front of the text. Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, ed. Mark Wallace, trans. David Pellauer (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1995), 41 3.


50 pluralism and its expansion into his overall system. The ability to do so ultimately comes anti realist and epistemologically antiobjectivist position. His response should be obvious; they, as in any seemly objectively existing elements involved in play, too are empty based on their being nece ssarily interdependent relations Gadamers response, in contrast, is not so clear. Suppose that according to Gadamer the shovel, the script and so forth do have an objective independent existence apart from any particular instance of play; where would that leave his overall system? As Chapter One demonstrated, that would leave him open to objectivist critique. The objectivist could then say that the one true understanding or knowledge of any thing lies in the thing itself. The truth of the shovel as art would lie in the shovel as object Of course, the easiest pro Gadamerian response would be that the truth of the shovel as art does not simply lie in the shovel as object but in the shovel as it occurs in the world of art. This would diffuse the truth into that world making it impossible to point to one single location where the truth lies. The problem here is similar to the problem encountered when the objectivist granted the initia l positive contribution of prejudices to understanding; the objectivist could argue, admitting the difficulty of the endeavor, that one need only step outside that world to see how the truth of the shovel as art arises within it, thereby allowing a comprehensive and unitary understanding of the truth of the shovel as art The countermove would then be to argue that there is no thing outside the game being played. But, says the objectivist, if the shovel itself can exist outside any particular instance of play, then so too may the knower or interpreter. In fact, the objective natures of each element in play could be investigated apart from that instance of play. Even if there are too many elements in play to allow for


51 an exhaustive investigation, the m ore one does the closer one gets to that one objective truth of the matter. From this arises the crucial question of how expansive the phenomenon of play is for Gadamer In fact, it appears that for Gadamer play is universal, or nearly so. The first th ing we must make clear to ourselves is that play is so elementary a function of human life that culture is quite inconceivable without this element.108The fact that the mode of being of play is so close to the mobile form of nature permits us to draw an important methodological conclusion. It is obviously not correct to say that animals too play, nor is it correct to say that, metaphorically speaking, water and light play as well Rather, on the contrary, we can say that man too plays. His playing too is a natural process. The meaning of his play too, precisely becauseand insofar as he is part of nature, is a pure selfpresentation. Thus in this sphere it becomes finally meaningless to distinguish between literal and metaphorica l usage Or, more emphatically: 109 So play appears to be ubiquitous. This alone, however, does not answer the question of how Gadamer does or should respond to the question of the objective existence of phenomena such as the shovel, the text, and so forth apart from play or any particular instance of it Moving closer to the answer requires moving from the universalism of play to the particularity of games. Games differ from one another in their spirit. The reason for this is that the to andfro movement that constitutes the game is patterned in various ways. The particular nature of a game lies in the rules and regulations that prescribe the way the field of the game is filled. This is true universally, whenever there is a game.110 108 Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful 22; see also 124 5. 109 Gadamer, Truth and Method 105. 110 Ibid., 107.


52 The point f or now is that though play may be universal it is manifested in various distinct ways in games that are self governing a nd relatively closed worlds.111 s help it is possible to move backwards from Gadamers transformation into structure through play to a broader rejection of objective existence apart from play The shovel as work only exists as such in the game of art; move the shovel back to the shed and it again becomes merely a shovel. Though e ven here, as existence ( ), but rather exists in a net of interdependent relations, particularly as it relates to human subjects. It exists in the game of agriculture or human culture generally. It arises as a shovel between the human subject, the soil, her available intentions to dig, and so forth. Certainly, an objectivist may grant, the notion or label shovel may be relationally dependent; a plastic cup may be used as a shovel, and therefore be labeled as a shovel. But there are still objectiv e facts about the shovel. It has a definitive length, with an iron For example, there are the games of chess, art (or specific genres of art), and language (s) Each of these would then have their own rul es determining the nature of players and elements within those games. It is also important to note that such defining rules may have little to do with appearance, material constitution, and so forth, but are more often concerned with functional relations that a particular element has with other elements in the world of the game A pawn in a game of chess may be a metal bolt, a knight like figurine, an actual human, or a classically designed plastic piece. This is less important than the functional and relational properties given to the piece such as only being able to attack one space diagonally forward or being worth less than a knight. 111 Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful 124.


53 blade of certain dimensions, and a handle constructed from a specific type of wood. But if one keeps in mind the arguments presented in Chapter Two these features, too, belong to a cognitive game. Wood, length and so forth only interdependently arise between the knower and the shovel; they are therefore as equally dependent on the perceiver s and the world in which they relate, as they are on the shovel as object What is the general consequence then of carrying Gadamers play to this Madhyamaka extreme? First, there is no time or place in which an object is not found in some gam e; this is equally true of human subjects. What is then taken by the objectivist to be an object with a definitive essence an d properties that exist apart f r om the knowing subject does not in fact exist; rather what is taken as such an object only arises as a result of the interdependent relations occurring in the game. If the game is changed so too is the object. With this the object, and the subject for that matter, are removed. There is nothing left for an objectivist to appeal to. The reason the objectivist believes that there is an independent object to point to is that both exist in a world or game with particular rules that allow both to arise and interact. Once this world and its rules are reified to the point of being taken for granted subj ects, objects, and their modes of relation gain the veneer of factuality and objectivity. Only then does the object seem to exist independently and only then is it possible to adequate certain beliefs and propositions to the object. The Epistemology of Interpretive Pluralism As hoped for, this new metaphysical foundation requires little change in Gadamers overall system. This is particularly true for the epistemological components of


54 historically effected consciousness and prejudices.112 First, remember that for Gadamer, historically effected consciousness means that consciousness is situated in the web of historical effects.113 More than just being situated, however, consciousness is constituted by its placement in such a web. The same is true of the object itself. One particularly gets this impression just prior to Gadamers analysis of Wirkungsgeschichte : The true historical object is not an object at all, but the unity of the one and the other, a relationship that constitutes both the reality of history and the reality of historical understanding.114 This has the further consequence of placing the subject and the object of understanding on equal ground. Since the historical school it has been recognized that objects in history are the product s of their historical and cultural relations. What Gadamer adds is that consciousness as understanding is equally and essentially a historically effected event.115 112 Again, dividing epistemology and ontology in Gadamers work is slightly artificial, particularly in discussions of historically effected consciousness and prejudice since our mode of being is determined by them. What is being isolated as epistemological here is the way in which they determine how and what we may come to know or understand. C onsciousness and its objects are then both players in the game of understanding. The tru th of the text, historical event, or piece of art then ar ises between them as the true work of understanding that is equally dependent on the subject as it is on the object in the relation. What then makes it impossible for the objectivist to counter is the fact that both poles of that relation are equally dependent on other historical and cultural relations. There is no thing to which the objectivist may point and say Here is where the truth lies; your understanding must conform to this. As 113 Gadamer, Truth and Method 30 0. 114 Ibid., 299. 115 Ibid.


55 Gada mer states, [I]t is clearly an incorrect description of this understanding to speak of an object existing in itself and of the subjects approach to it. The truth is that historical understanding always implies that the tradition reaching us speaks into the present and must be understood in this mediation indeed, as this mediation.116 This then continues to the individual prejudices composing historically effected consciousness. Here some slight amending may be necessary. As Chapter One showed prejudice s are simultaneously the limit and the positive possibility of any understanding at all. As limits, and in keeping with Gadamers analysis of play, they are like the rules of a game. They constrain the number of possible moves. But this limiting is actu ally concomitant with the positive possibility they give to any understanding at all. Here prejudices may be seen as the epistemological counterpart to the metaphysical interdependence of historical and cultural phenomena. 117 We are able to engage an objec t of understanding because that object has some relation with us. We are a product of them as muc h as they are a product of us. This provides the legitimacy of Gadamers statement that we belong to history more than history belonging to us.118 One of the tasks Gadamer gives to hermeneutics takes this even a step fu rther: The i nterpreters belonging to his objectnow acquires a concretely demonstrable significance, and it is the task of hermeneutics to demonstrate it.119 116 Gadamer, Truth and Method 325. With this it is perhaps better not to think 117 See, for example, Ibid., 278. 118 Ibid. 119 Ibid., 254.


56 of prejudices as latently carried around by the subject but as only aris ing in the encounter w ith the object of understanding. T he Text How does this all then affect one of Gadamers main aims and the most notable use of hermeneutics, the interpretation of traditionary material? First, there is no text in the way an objectivist or realist may think. Given all the arguments presented until now, this may still be difficult for some to accept. There are, after all, letters and words on a page. But hermeneutics is not actually interested in words or sentences on a page. Elucidating the following passage may help clarify this point : Every age has to understand a transmitted text in its own way, for the text belongs to the whole tradition w hose content interests the age and in which it seeks to understand itself. The real meaning of a text, as it speaks to the interpreter, does not depend on the contingencies of the author and his original audience. It certainly is not identical with them, for it is always co determined also by the historical situation of the interpreter and hence by the totality of the objective course of history (emphasis added) .120 First, h ermeneutics is interested in meaning .121 Meaning, however, only arises, according to Gadamers use of the hermeneutic circle, in the interrelation between the parts and the whole.122 Even a single letter or word only has meaning in a certain context, a nd this context is not limited to the bounded text. It was created in a cultural and his torical horizon to carry meaning. This may lead some, such as E.D. Hirsch Jr., to regard the authors intention or the texts reception by its original or intended audience to be the arbiters of the true meaning of the text .123 120 Gadamer, Truth and Method 296. But the text arises in front of the author just as 121 For example see Ibid., 365. 122 See Gadamer, Truth and Method 291 and 293; Jean Grondin, Gadamer's Basic Understanding of Understanding, in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer ed. Robert Dostal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 46 50. 123 Hirsch, 1 23, esp. 10 14.


57 the painting arises in front of the artist, or the drama in front of the audience and actors. Though humans composed and bound the book, there is no one thing to point to and say Theres the meaning! Jean Grondin makes the point succinctly when he states, To understand, in Gadamers sense, is to articulate (a meaning, a thing, an event) into words, words that are always mine, but at the same time those of what I strive to understand.124 The true text arises between the interprete r and the text. As both the interpreter and the text are historical and cultural events with prejudices arising between them, then the true text is always different This is why Gadamer may say that understanding is not merely a reproductive but always a productive activity as well.125 Or when he states that neither the knower nor the known is present at hand in an ontic way.126 If there is no real text that exists independent of context, to which the interpreter belongs, then there is no single loc ation for a one true meaning of the text leaving epistemological objectivism no metaphysically self existent object to appeal to. There then can be only multiple true interpretations of the text, or Gadamers interpretive pluralism. 124 Grondin, Gadamer's Basic Understanding of Understanding, 41. 125 Gadamer, Truth and Method 296, 308. 126 Ibid., 252.


58 Conclusion It is now apparent how Gadamer may completely avoid objectivism. If objects of interpretation only arise in relation to the object and its interpreter, and they in turn are ultimately determined by other relations, then there is no metaphysical anchor for an objectivist epistemology. But what of the other horn of the dilemma, relativism or interpretive nihilism? Without careful management the rejection of objectivism may lead to relativism or interpretive nihilism, and, in fact, this is a common critique of Gadamer. Often the attempt to avoid relativism leads to positions, such as Wachterhausers and Hirschs, that move Gadamer and hermeneutics more generally back to a more objectivist position. As such, for the above argument to be effective, some account of how relativism or interpretive nihilism may be avoided based on this new foundation must be given. Gadamer does explicitly reject interpretive nihilism jus t as he rejects the ossifying tendency of objectivism: One way of understanding a work, then, is no less legitimate than another. There is no criterion of appropriate reaction. Not only does the artist himself possess none the aesthetics of genius would agree here; every encounter with the work has the rank and rights of a new production. This seems to me an untenable hermeneutic nihilism.127 128 127 Gadamer, Truth and Method 82.


59 Though this topic is too intricate to allow more than broad strokes at this time, both again mutually benefit one another. makes a distinction between ultimate and conventional truth, the latter being akin to Gadamers understanding of tradition (MMK 24:8). Here for and therefore emptiness, of e verything (MMK 24:18) .129 128 See the Dedicatory Verse of the MMK and MMK 24. See also Khapa, 24 and 324 na, The Dispeller of Disputes 46 8. Despite what one may initially disparage conventional truth in favor of ultimate truth. Both are in fact truths and they too are co dependent As he states, Without a foundation in the conventional trut h/ The significance of the ultimate cannot be taught (MMK 24:10a b). First, to relegate conventional truth would imply that there is a reality, and a truth about it, apart from our support such a position. In fact, our cultural and linguistic practices are integral in creating the world and its objects. This follows from the above accounts of cognitive dependence and the integral role of the subject. Subsequently, it is that cul turally and linguistically created world that must be investigated to find interdependence and emptiness. If the world is created by virtue of our linguistic and cultural practices, then there is no other way to investigate ultimate truth than by those means. So, for example, there is such a thing as a tree. This again speaks to the fact that emptiness does not mean non existence. It then is 129 Also see Khapa, 495 6.


60 justifiable to talk about the tree existing. But once investig ated properly the tree is shown not to have independent existence. This does not mean that the tree does not exist.130This, however, is obviously metaphysical and what is currently at issue is how ilism or relativism. As a reminder, existence, so too does the fact that he argues for the interdependence of objects of knowledge, means of knowledge, and subjects does not mean that there is no knowledge to be had. In its simplest terms, the possible range of knowledge or understanding of something will be inhibited by the relations that compose that thing, by the relations that compose the subject, and perhaps most importantl y the relation between the thing and the subject. Though, as with Gadamers prejudices, this also provides the positive possibility for engagement with the object. There should be some additional obvious similarities between Gadamers understanding of the composition of traditionary material and the interpreter. Remember, for example, that as humans we are constituted by our placement within the web of historical effects constituting our world. 131 Similarly, the traditionary material has its placement in a web constructed world. But these two worlds are not completely alien to one another; for our understanding will always retain the consciousness that we too belong to that world, and correlatively, that the work too belongs to our world.132This begins similarities and differences between interpretations. For example, the relations that 130 For example see Khapa's elucidation of nihilism Ibid., 23. 131 Gadamer, Truth and Method 300. 132 Ibid., 290.


61 compose tree s will be largely alike. Similarly, the means to knowledge that compose human perception a re for the most part the same. So when two individuals see the same tree, their perception of it will be largely similar. What create s the greatest variation s are the historical and cultural relations composing the subject. Take, for example, the differ ence between the common sense perception and the natural scientific perception of a hippopotamus. Given its appearance and location common perception may come to the conclusion that they are related to elephant s rhinoceroses, or pigs. (The fact that one may even wonder what and how animals are related is a new cultural phenomenon.) In fact, according to the game of natural science they are most closely related to whales and porpoises. Or, even in the world of common sense there may be divergence. W hile both the common zoogoer and the African native may have no knowledge of evolutionary biologys taxonomy, and therefore must depend on more direct perception, nevertheless they may have comparatively different perceptions of a hippopotamus. For one i t may be a large lethargic animal with little real significance other than as a part of weekend entertainment; for the other it may in fact be a real threat to life and livelihood. r. How a hippopotamus is conceived is legitimate in each of these cases. The difference between the two is simply the rules that create and restrain the possible modes of interpretation and understanding. But the rules of knowledge are not simply based on cultural and historical whim; rather they are also based on the hippopotamus and its relations. This is how there can be both legitimate similarities and difference concerning interpretation and understanding.


62 Gadamers methodologically open accounts of how legitimate and illegitimate interpretations may be discriminated can clarify some of these points. Specifically dealing with how fore meanings may be challenged, he states, I think we must say that generally we do so [question the appropriateness of fore meanings] in the experience of being pulled up short by the text.133 More specifically, relatively speaking, the interpreter is pulled up short when the expected meaning of the whole is not coherent with the continually emerging parts. The har mony of all the details with the whole is the criterion of correct understanding. The failure to achieve this harmony means that understanding has failed.134 So interpretations of trees, hippos, texts and so forth are limited in their range of possible le gitimate interpretations by the relations that compose the thing being interpreted. But the range of legitimate interpretations is also open in the sense that the object of interpretation is partially determined by its relation to the interpreter and the relations composing the interpreter. As he states, [T]his openness always includes our situating the other meaning in relation to the whole of our own meaning or ourselves in relation to it.135Clarifying what event and mediation mean for Gadamer an help to demonstrate why truths are necessarily multiple and yet not relative in the strong sense of the word. First, event obviously privileges time and change over space and 133 Gadamer, Truth and Method 270. 134 Ibid., 291. With this, if one were to argue for Gadamer fitting into some established epistemological category, coherentism would be a viable candidate. In fact, Wachterhauser argues as much in Brice Wachterhauser, Gadamer's Realism: The 'Belongingness' of Word and Reality, in Hermeneutics and Truth ed. Wachterhauser (Evanston, I L: Northwestern University Press, 1994), 154. Unfortunately, he also connects this to a type of correspondence theory of truth that would leave Gadamer vulnerable to objectivist attacks. 135 Gadamer, Truth and Method 271.


63 stability. For heuristic purposes time may then be divided sy nchronically and diachronically.136 Continuing with Gadamers example of drama let B stand for a particular drama, such as Hamlet As Gadamer states, the work of art cannot simply be isolated from the contingency of chance conditions in which it appears, and the work of art is necessarily tied to its presentation. 137This also points to the topic, inherited from Heidegger, of disclosure. Hamlet or the hippopotamus only arise as objects of interpretation within a pre give n interpretive framework. They become objects of investigation and interpretation within this framework. As such this pre given framework has already determined the nature of the phenomena and the rules of engagement. The range of possible legitimate wa ys of understanding them have then already been set by the framework in which they arise. So with each performance of Hamlet it will be different. Let B, then, be the first or original performance of Hamlet and B be some later performance. A and C are then synchronic phenome na contemporary to B that in part determine B. It should be noted that A and C stand for things both external, such as general cultural trends, and internal, such as particular actors or audiences, to B. Just as B changes to B so too do A and C change to A and C This necessarily makes B different from B. But B could not legitimately be anything, for it is in part determined by a succession of previous Bs. Also since A and C in p art determined B, and A and C give rise to A and C then the possibilities of B are also indirectly constrained by the original horizon in which B occurred. 136 Much of what follows is derived from Mark C. Taylor, Toward an Ontology of Relativism, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 46, no. 1 (March 1978): 41 61. 137 Gadamer, Truth and Method 115.


64 S o, in fact, just as prejudices are simultaneously the limits and positive possibility of understanding at all, so too are the interpreters and the objects gener al positions in their web s of relations. Since there is no independent inherent essence to either and since they are co determinative, any shift in the position of one creates a correlative shift in the position of the other. The truth of both then moves as well. But such moves cannot be arbitrary. Though one may interpret a dolphin out of a tree or Mary Poppins out of Crime and Punishment such interpretations would not be judged legitimate. They have broken the rules of tradition, and the rules of the world that have already given rise to the phenomena


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About the Author Nicholas Byle earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors, in Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. His concentrations include Philosophy of Religion, focusing on contemporary Continental traditions and comparative philosophy, specifically Buddhist and Daoist philosophy. He has presented papers at regional conferences such as the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion and the Southern Sociological Society. He has also received multiple awards and scholarships such as Intern ational Baccalaureate diploma, Bright Futures Scholarship, Outstanding Student Contributor award, and Graduate Teaching Assistantships.