Questions as the Core of Scholarship

Photograph of H. G. GadamerIn his essay on “The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem,” H.-G. Gadamer reflects,

It is imagination … that is the decisive function of the scholar. Imagination naturally has a hermeneutical function and serves the sense for what is questionable. It serves the ability to expose real, productive questions, something in which, generally speaking, only he who masters all the methods of his science achieves.

As a student of Plato, I particularly love scenes in which Socrates gets into a dispute with the Sophist virtuosi and drives them to despair by his questions. Eventually they can endure his questions no longer and claim for themselves the apparently preferable role of the questioner. And what happens? They can think of nothing at all to ask. Nothing at all occurs to them that is worth while going into and trying to answer.

I draw the following inference from this observation. The real power of hermeneutical consciousness is our ability to see what is questionable. (Philosophical Hermeneutics, 12–13).

Without the ability to “see what is questionable,” there is also little chance of breaking “the spell of our own fore-meanings” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 281), or the assumptions about the reality we encounter that, at first brush, seem as naturally indubitable as anything could be.

For other reflections by and on Gadamer, see also previous posts on his thought.

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