A Hermeneutics of Practice: Philosophical Hermeneutics and the Epistemology of Participation


  • J.R. Nicholas Davey University of Dundee, Scotland, UK.




Gadamer, philosophical hermeneutics, participation


Gadamer’s “Philosophical Hermeneutics†leaves several unresolved questions inviting further development. (1) If scientific methodology is no longer the counter-balance to questions of procedure in the humanities, what can hermeneutics offer the sciences in grappling with the absence of certainty? (2) Why does Gadamer not develop the notion that understanding is a type of movement? What is understanding’s seemingly perpetual disquiet? (3) Gadamer’s case that understanding is an event is part of his rejection of the Kantian thesis that “knowing†is grounded in subjective consciousness. The question of how such events are generated is unresolved. Placing the event of understanding in a linguistic horizon establishes its ontological pre-requisite but offers no insight into the mechanisms that have to be in place to facilitate its emergence.

This paper will suggest that the notion of practice (itself a philosophical theme not extensively discussed in Gadamer) offers three possible answers to these questions. (1) Practice evolves notions of certitude other than those that are strictly epistemological. (2) Practice is often driven by a quest for completion (Vollzug) which proves instrumentally disruptive and a means to new insight. The drive for completion is a candidate for generating understanding’s disquiet. (3) Practice facilitates not so much a fusion but a collision of horizons capable of generating unexpected transformations of understanding. All three answers suggest the development of philosophical hermeneutics into what will be termed a participatory hermeneutics.


Author Biography

J.R. Nicholas Davey, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK.

Professor Nicholas Davey, M.A. D.Phil, Former HOD and Dean, School of Humanities.

Nicholas Davey (b.1950) was educated at the Universities of York, Sussex and Tübingen. He has lectured at the City University London (I976-79), at the University of Manchester (I989-80), the University of Wales Institute Cardiff Institute (I981-I996) and is presently Professor of Philosophy having served as Dean of Humanities at the University of Dundee. His principal teaching and research interests are in aesthetics and hermeneutics. He has served as the President of the British Society for Phenomenology, advised the British Society for Aesthetics, has assisted Oxford and Cambridge University Presses and many others, and also works for the Arts and Humanities Research Council and for the Higher Education Research Evaluation Framework. He regularly teaches abroad running hermeneutics workshops in Canada, Brazil, the United States, Sweden and Finland. At the University of Wales and at the University of Dundee he established new graduate and post-graduate courses in art and philosophy as well as the research groups Theoros and Hermeneutica Scotia. He has published widely in the field of Continental Philosophy, aesthetics and hermeneutic theory. His book, Unquiet Understanding, Gadamer and Philosophical Hermeneutics,(2006), is published with the State University Press of New York. His book Unfinished Worlds, Hermeneutucs,Aesthetics and Gadamer Hermeneutics appears with Edinburgh University Press. He is currently working on a monograph entitled Unsettled Subjects, a Hermeneutical Defense of the Humanities.



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