Gadamer on Prejudicial Frameworks

Philosophical Hermeneutics
Hans-Georg Gadamer

According to Hans-Georg Gadamer,

Prejudices [i.e., prejudgments] are not necessarily unjustified and erroneous, so that they inevitably distort the truth. In fact, the historicity of our existence entails that prejudices, in the literal sense of the word [i.e., prejudgments], constitute the 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. (Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 9)

In his following discussion, Gadamer draws a helpful illustration from the process of language acquisition:

How does it happen that [words] are “words,” that is, that they have a general meaning? In his first apperception, a sensuously equipped being finds himself in a surging sea of stimuli, and finally he begins, as we say, to know something. Clearly we do not mean that he was previously blind. Rather, when we say “to know” [erkennen] we mean “to recognize” [wiedererkennen], that is, to pick something out [herauserkennen] of the stream of images flowing past as being identical. (Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 14; brackets original; underlining for original italics)

Even when language is acquired inductively, a judgment about meaning may develop from a “surging sea of stimuli,” but this sea itself does not “make sense” to the acquirer until the acquirer reflects on the sea in the context of this judgment—that is, until the judgment becomes prejudgment and allows the sea to speak sensibly.

Et tu, Brute . . . Facts

Christian Apologetics
Cornelius Van Til

In the introduction to the second edition of Cornelius Van Til’s Christian Apologetics, Bill Edgar helpfully summarizes Van Til’s perspective on “brute facts”:

For Van Til . . . there could never be isolated self-evident arguments or brute facts, because everything comes in a framework. That is why he calls his approach the “indirect method.” One cannot go directly to the facts, as though they were self-evident. First, one must recognize the foundation and go on from there. . . . This is resolutely not a denial of the use of evidences. Everything proclaims God’s truth. Only there are no brute facts, or data in a vacuum. (5, 8; emphasis original)

From this perspective, Van Til comments:

It is these notions [of brute fact in metaphysics and the autonomy of the human mind in epistemology] that determine the construction that the natural man puts upon everything that is presented to him. They are the colored glasses through which he sees all the facts. . . . (193)

The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be direct rather than indirect. The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to [the] debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference point required to make the “facts” and “laws” intelligible. The question s as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. (129)

Of course, for Van Til,

There is one system of reality of which all that exists forms a part. And any individual fact of this system is what it is primarily because of its relation to this system. It is therefore a contradiction to speak in terms of presenting certain facts to men unless one presents them as parts of this system. The very factness of any individual fact of history is precisely what it is because God is what he is. It is God’s counsel that is the principle of individuation for the Christian man. God makes the facts to be what they are. (193–94)

In some ways, Van Til’s perspective much resembles Thomas Kuhn’s arguments about the natural sciences. Yet, one major difference is that, where Kuhn has ever-mutable paradigms, Van Til has, on the Christian’s side of things, a perception of ever-knowing, reality-constituting mind of God.

Letting Paul Be Paul

In his Romans commentary, F. F. Bruce gives the following, sound advice for those who want to understand Paul better:

We may agree or disagree with Paul, but we must do him the justice of letting him hold and teach his own beliefs, and not distort his beliefs into conformity with what we should prefer him to have said (136).

Of course, determining what exactly Paul believed is a task that inevitably involves readers and those readers’ preunderstandings, but still the adage holds: “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time” (cf. Hermeneutics and “the Near”).


In this post:

Romans (TNTC)
F. F. Bruce

Donnerstag Digest (December 2, 2010)

This week in the biblioblogosphere:

  • Bob Cargill notes that, on December 11, the National Geographic Channel will re-air its special on “Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
  • Brian LePort hypertextually ponders Derridean non-extra-textuality and deconstruction, and he notes twenty-nine doctoral theses that the University of Durham has recently made available.
  • Michael Bird shows how to benefit most from the new SBL Greek New Testament and notes that the new Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters now has its own blog.
  • Google Editions are poised to hit the e-book market later this month and allow fee-based full access to copyrighted titles. For some additional details and thoughts, see Blog Kindle and Google Books Help.

Second Temple Literature as a “Cultural Script”

While reading Darrell Bock’s Studying the Historical Jesus in preparation for class this fall, I came across the following, insightful comment:

Every culture has its “cultural script” that is assumed in its communication. These [Second Temple Jewish] sources help us get a reading on the cultural script at work in the time of Jesus. They also help us understand the reaction to Jesus and his ministry. They also deepen our own perception of Jesus’ claims (40–41).

Particularly this quotation’s first sentence—and then the remaining ones by way of application—strongly resonate with some of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s remarks about “transposition.” Of course, this “script” does not represent a rigid, determining force, but it does aggregate a field of possibilities for Judaism(s) that could make sense within the Second Temple period and, therefore, a field on which Jesus had to play in order to make sense to other Jews of his day. Even if the “sense” some made of him was that he was a dangerous radical who merited execution, such opponents still had to see Jesus as playing on the part of the field where people who deserved execution played. Thus, studying the nature of this field—this “cultural script”—can provide valuable insight into how Jesus situated himself within that field (cf. Wright 1992, 145–338; Wright 1996, 150–55).


In this post:

Studying the Historical Jesus
Darrell Bock
N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright

History and Collective Memory

Defending the legitimacy of the category of “collective memory,” Maurice Halbwachs observes the following:

History is neither the whole nor even all that remains of the past. In addition to written history, there is a living history that perpetuates and renews itself through time and permits the recovery of many old currents that have seemingly disappeared (64).

Thus, in some respect, the “collective memory” provides the means by which a community recovers for itself things that it has forgotten or allowed to fall into the vague and dusty corners of its memory. Without such collective memory, these lost currents would have no presence in relation to the community and they would have to be recovered—if they would ever be recovered at all—in the same manner as the community discovers new things of which it had not previously been aware.


In this post:

Collective Memory
Maurice Halbwachs