The Power of Private Presuppositions

Presuppositions that remain unacknowledged at least to oneself can still exercise strong influence. Indeed,

[a] person who believes he is free of prejudices, relying on the objectivity of his procedures and denying that he is himself conditioned by historical circumstances, experiences the power of the prejudices that unconsciously dominate him as a vis a tergo. A person who does not admit that he is dominated by prejudices will fail to see what manifests itself by their light [because it will not be foregrounded from them] (Gadamer 354).

We sometimes see this dynamic at work when we cannot see any other possible resolution for a given problem or interpretation for a given data set than the one that we prefer. “This must be that,” we think, for, “How could it be otherwise?” A close cousin to this kind of logic is an argument that, of the possible interpretations, only one is any good, and the other is bad. Or, only one is good, and all the others are equally or effectively just as bad as each other.

Of course, some interpretations do explain the relevant data more comprehensively and more coherently than competing interpretations, but evaluating these other interpretations, as it were, from inside the horizons from which they come is a valuable skill to cultivate. For, this skill can help minimize the tendency to adopt less coherent or comprehensive interpretations simply because of things that we do not realize that we think—and that we have not, therefore, evaluated to determine their own legitimacy. Moreover, in a rhetorical context, considering the same information from another standpoint can help refine and strengthen one’s own positions as well as suggest more effective ways of communicating these positions to others.


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Hans Georg Gadamer
Hans Georg Gadamer

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