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Deriving Gadamer's Account of Intersubjectivity from his Account of Dialogue


               Throughout the 20th century few philosophical topics have been so central as intersubjectivity. Understanding how we are aware of, and relate to, others not only has obvious implications for ethics and political theory, but also for epistemology—as we seek to know whether individuals have privileged access to their mental states, how objectivity is established, and the role that confirmation across subjects plays in legitimating judgment—and metaphysics—as we try to understand the nature of the subject and the subject's relation to the world. Virtually every major twentieth century philosopher has contributed to the topic, certainly every major phenomenologist, and some, such as Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, have made it the central feature of their philosophical reflections. Hans-Georg Gadamer on the other hand has no explicit, articulated theory of intersubjectivity. This should be surprising. Gadamer certainly associates himself with the phenomenological tradition and the issues that arise within it; he has scattered comments criticizing I-Thou accounts of intersubjectivity and Heidegger's theory of Mit-sein; and he is well known for placing dialogue at the center of his philosophical view, an essentially intersubjective process. Still, he has no explicit theory and, in the one essay where he discusses intersubjective issues—"Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Subject and Person"[1]—he suggests an account of intersubjectivity make no sense once we, following Heidegger, abandon an account of subjectivity. So perhaps the lack of a theory of intersubjectivity is less of an omission than itself a statement about intersubjectivity.[2] Nonetheless, if we are going to bring Gadamer into dialogue with other thinkers in 20th century philosophy, and especially with the phenomenological tradition, it make sense to ask whether his philosophical hermeneutics presupposes or entails an account of intersubjectivity. For certainly his extensive comments on dialogue and understanding would have implications for a theory of intersubjectivity, were he to articulate one. That is the project of this paper: to spell out to what extent Gadamer's theory of dialogue can be used to explicate an account of intersubjectivity. We will look both at what is unique about Gadamer's account of dialogue, and at the few comments he does make about theories of intersubjectivity to help articulate what we will call a Gadamerian theory of intersubjectivity. As it turns out, the key claim that implies an account of intersubjectivity is his claim that language is only perfected in dialogue. First, though, we must get clear about what an account of intersubjectivity includes, and what we should look for when investigating Gadamer's hermeneutics. As a wide variety of philosophical issues have been collected under the name "intersubjectivity", it is worth our time to take a minute to distinguish them.

               The issues of intersubjectivity can be divided into two broad concerns: the epistemological-phenomenological concern and the ontological concern. The former is the concern for the possibility of the awareness of another subject as another subject. Often referred to as "the problem of other minds," responses to this concern explain the process by which we come to be aware of other subjects. Some, such as A. J. Ayer, argue that we infer the existence of another subject in the presence of a body on analogy of our self-experience.[3] Others, such as Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, argue that our awareness of others is not due to an inference, but to a special capacity for empathy that presents others to us as conscious beings. This empathy could be on the basis of an analogy with our own self-awareness as embodied consciousnesses, such as in Husserl's view, or perhaps, as Scheler argues, we are directly aware of others through their bodily expressions.[4] Jean-Paul Sartre also claims we are non-inferentially aware of other subjects, though not empathically and in fact not necessarily in their presence, but in virtue of our sense of shame.[5] Martin Heidegger claims it occurs through the recognition of equipment crafted for a particular purpose, so relates primarily not to our consciousness awareness of others, but to our practical awareness of other, which, of course, may become conscious.[6] Along these lines, our awareness of the other may not be first and foremost of a conscious, knowing subject, but of a subject who makes moral claims on us. J. G. Fichte argues that this constitutes our primary awareness of others, as does Levinas.[7] Such views then intimately link together our awareness of others with moral responsibility.  These competing views vary depending on whether they see the subject primarily as knowing, acting, or vulnerable, and whether they see our primary awareness as cognitive or affective, but all are addressing the same question of how e become aware of other subjects as subjects.

In contrast to the epistemological/phenomenological concern is the ontological one: how are we, as subjects, intersubjectively constituted. What dimensions of our "self" are essentially constituted through our involvement with others? Again there has been a range of answers. Some appeal to a shared history, or shared tradition that are both essential of who we are and fundamentally intersubjective; others appeal to an intrinsically social self as in Martin Buber's I-Thou, or Maurice Merleau-Ponty's intercorporeity. [8] Yet others appeal to the emergence of possibilities that operate to make us who we are, but would not have emerged were it not for interaction with others. For example, George Herbert Mead, whose ideas were taken up by Jčrgen Habermas, argued that our capacity to reason was developed only through interaction with others.[9] These ontological questions of intersubjectivity we might classify as questions of "social ontology." [10]

Within the second division of intersubjectivity—not other-awareness, but social ontology—there are two levels: the communal and the dialogical. We can divide the question of social ontology into that of "third person" intersubjective constitution—the effects on the subject in virtue of belonging to a community, a tradition, etc.—and that of "second person" intersubjective constitution—the effects on the subject from immediate interaction with other subjects. Note that some accounts of intersubjectivity (e.g. Husserl's) neglect the second dimension or at least reduce the dialogical to the functioning reproduction of the communal. Others, such a Habermas, argue that our sense of third-person intersubjectivity—what he calls, following Mead, the generalized other—arises out of our particular intersubjective interactions with particular others.

It's no surprise that the hermeneuts look for the intersubjective constitution of the self first and foremost in the interpersonal exchange. We should locate a Gadamerian view in a similar place: that is, we will focus on Gadamer's account of dialogue to see whether it implicitly contains a dialogical social ontology—an account of the social dimensions of the self that are constituted through dialogue. Again, Gadamer does not present an explicit account of intersubjectivity, but his most often repeated statement on intersubjectivity—a quote from HÜlderlin, "We are a dialogue"—points to a dialogical social ontology rather than a third-person social ontology or an answer to the problem of other minds. Of course it may be that a third-person social ontology could be developed out of the social elements of Gadamer's account of tradition, but such a view would function within his dialogical social ontology in just the same way that his account of tradition functions within his account of dialogue.

               Our task, then, is to look at central features of Gadamer's account of dialogue to see if any have implications for dialogical social ontology. Three features are common to every theory of dialogue. First, a dialogue involves two participants. Some argue that the dialogue has to occur in the face-to-face encounter of two persons, others claim that they don't actually have to be present to each other (they could be speaking over the phone, or through texts). Still others argue that dialogue can occur between persons and natural objects—Buber mentions having a dialogue with a tree—or artificial objects. Gadamer embraces the latter view in claiming that we have a genuine dialogue with works of art. Importantly Gadamer's view is that we have dialogue with the text, or work of art not with another person through the text. We engage Plato's dialogues, not with Plato through his dialogues or, for that matter Plato's ideas expressed in his dialogues. Gadamer also famously, claims that we dialogue with our tradition as "tradition ... expresses itself like a Thou."[11] There is another related issue, and that is whether dialogue has to occur in language. Some hold that there can be a legitimate dialogue of gestures—not sign language, but gestures—while others argue that dialogue needs to take place in a natural language. Gadamer holds that embodied interactions between subjects can be dialogical—dialogue-like—but a genuine dialogue only occurs in language. In fact dialogue is, according to Gadamer, the perfection of language; "language has its true being only in dialogue."[12]

Second, a dialogue requires a certain amount of openness between the participants. What this openness entails—i.e. whether we need to presume the interlocutor speaks the truth, or speaks rationally, or merely speaks intelligibly—varies across theories of dialogue. Gadamer calls openness "the hermeneutic virtue" but whether that virtue is primarily intellectual or moral is also contested. Nonetheless, even in the most competitive forms of dialogues, arguments, it is expected that, first, the interlocutors not rely on straw men to caricature the others' position, that, second, each provides reasons the other will recognize as legitimate, and, third, that each take seriously the possibility there are good reasons for rejecting the view they hold. Those features are universal in any account of dialogical charity. Gadamer's version of openness has two parts. First, "openness to the other, then, involves recognizing that I myself must accept some things that are against me, even though no one else forces me to."[13] That is, we must always acknowledge that we have something to learn from our interlocutor. Second, we are charitable to a view (in our interlocutor's absence) when we see it as a legitimate answer to a genuine question.

The most important thing is the question that the text puts to us. ╔ The voice that speaks to us from the past—whether text, work, trace—itself poses a question and places our meaning in openness. In order to answer the question put to us, we the interrogated must ourselves begin to ask the questions.[14]

These two together provide the basis for Gadamer's account of openness, and, again, any theory of intersubjectivity worthy of being Gadamerian must preserve this account of openness.

The third common feature of theories of dialogue is that dialogue is oriented towards understanding the subject matter of the dialogue. Again, there is disagreement about whether this requires agreement, or whether it requires simply a better understanding of one's owns views and one's interlocutor's views, or, appreciation or, even more simply, mutual acknowledgment of each other's views. Gadamer argues that dialogue is ideally resolved in a "fusion of horizons." He writes that, "When I speak in my own work of the necessity for the horizon of one person and the horizon of another to merge into one for any understnading to take place, I ma not referring to an abiding and identifiable "one" [Eines], but just to what takes place in conversation as it goes along."[15] A dialogue without a fusion off horizons is a failed conversation. 

To determine whether there is a theory of intersubjectivity implicated in Gadamer's theory of dialogue we should focus on those three features of dialogue that are distinctive to Gadamer: that dialogue is ideally resolved in a fusion of horizons, that dialogue operates on the model of a question and answer guided by the subject matter (the Sache), and that dialogue is the perfection of language. As none of these are essential to an account of dialogue, the three features taken together serve to individuate Gadamer's account from other possible accounts. Our task is to see if any account of intersubjectivity is entailed by any or all these three theses on dialogue; our conclusion will be that only the final one—that dialogue is the perfection of language—operates to determine an account of intersubjectivity.

               Before we move on to analyze the claim that "language has its true being only in dialogue," let's consider the often-discussed fusion of horizons. The classic claim is on page 306 of Truth and Method, "Understanding is always the fusion of these horizons existing by themselves." Many commentators have discussed what the "fusion" entails and avoids, but few have stressed the historical context of the "horizon." In its first appearance, Gadamer presents it as the mediating concept of Husserl's that moves him from of inner-time consciousness to the life-world. "Undoubtedly the concept and phenomenon of the horizon is of crucial importance for Husserl's phenomenological research. With this concept, which we too shall have occasion to use, Husserl is obviously seeking to capture the way all limited intentionality of meaning merges into the fundamental continuity of the whole." [16] Yet when it appears again it is only in a quasi-Husserlian form. In the spirit of Husserl, it is "the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen" [17] and yet contra Husserl Gadamer says it is possible to have no horizon at all and that "it requires a special effort to acquire a historical horizon."[18] This is quite a contrast to Husserl's claim in the Ideas that "every present moment of experience has about it a horizon of experiences."[19] There has been a shift from the Husserlian background in two important ways. First, Gadamer shifts the discussion from objects to propositions; he writes, "every proposition has its horizon of meaning in that it originates in a question situation."[20] Second, he introduced the importance of a historical sensibility of what contexts are significant and what are irrelevant for making the proposition intelligible. Gadamer writes that only "a person who has a horizon knows that relative significance of everything within this horizon."[21] The task then is to "acquire the right horizon of inquiry for the questions evoked by the encounter with tradition."[22] Some horizons present things in a better light than others for producing understanding.

Yet on the next page, he says that the possibility of understanding the past is predicated upon the fact that "everything contained in historical consciousness is in fact embraced by a single historical horizon."[23] Of course this leads Gadamer to the obvious question: "If there is no such thing as distinct horizons, why do we speak of the fusion of horizons and not simply of the formation of one horizon?"[24] His answer is that speaking of one horizon, although true, misses that there is still a tension between positions that lies deeper than the positions themselves. This is our clue to what he means by a horizon, namely, sensitivity to the differences between the past and the present (or, alternatively, between what is foreign and what is familiar). Horizons are not the constraints of intelligibility, thus marking the limits of commensurability, but the limits of familiarity. A fusion of horizons is extension of our sensitivity of difference without the "foregrounding" of the new over the old (or vice versa). To acquire a historical horizon, then, is tantamount to acquiring a "historically effected consciousness", one that is "open to the experience of history."[25] The horizon contains the background conditions for the intelligibility of a view so the fusion of horizons amounts to a shared understanding of the conditions for the intelligibility of the interlocutor's view. Clearly this will involve a newfound understanding of ones own views, but it doesn't require agreement. Gadamer says that,

[The] pattern of mutual self-expression constitutes a specific possible way of being with one another. The idea of a shared understanding which guides this activity is not one in which agreement is reached about the matter under discussion, and its motive is not to secure the disclosure of this matter, but, rather, to enable the participants to themselves to become manifest to each other in speaking about it. Thus, at bottom, such a conversation is made no less fruitful by the participants' inability to come to an agreement about the matter, as long as it enables each of them to become explicitly visible in his being to the other.[26]

Indeed, as Gadamer rightly points out, a too hasty agreement may interfere with the process of the fusion of horizons. That is, it may interfere with increasing the sensitivity of difference.

Now that the notion of a fusion of horizons has been clarified, it is no longer seems to be a distinguishing feature of Gadamer's account of dialogue. Moreover, how the newfound sensitivity arises and the "fusion" occurs can be explained in a number of ways, some which bear on the constitution of the self, some which merely shape a subject's beliefs. Thus it neither motivates, nor is entailed by a unique account of intersubjectivity. In short, it is an epistemological claim and, as such, has implications for a theory of meaning, but not for a theory of the subject, and therefore not for a theory of intersubjectivity. If the self is not at stake in the fusion of horizons, then it is not a matter of the intersubjective constitution of the self.

               A condition for fusing horizons is being able to put ourselves in a position to recognize the address of others (both of persons and texts). We must allow the other to speak.[27] As on Gadamer's account this includes allowing texts or works of art to speak, he needs to give some parameters as to what can allow something to speak in a charitable way. His logic of question and answer serves in this respect as a principle of charity: something is accepted if it is a genuine answer to a legitimate question. The relation between question and answer, then, is itself integrated with his account of the fusion of horizons. More than that, though, Gadamer claims that the relation of question and answer is the formal structure for all dialogue. Thus we turn to this second unique feature of Gadamer's account of dialogue to determine if it entails a particular account of intersubjectivity. We must first see what it is about questions and answers that makes them suitable to model dialogue.

               Certainly Gadamer's appeal to dialogue as question and answer plays an important role in his philosophy; for example, his substitution of Socratic dialogue for Hegelian dialectic reaffirms his criticism of Hegel on the basis of finitude. However, this is not what serves the question and answer as a model of dialogue.

What convinced me about Collingwood's logic of question and answer was not its methodological usefulness, which is ultimately trivial, but its validity (that transcends all methodical usage) according to which question and answer are utterly entangled with one another. For what then is a question? Surely something that one has to understand and that one does understand only when one understands the question itself in terms of something, that is, as an answer; and in doing so one limits the dogmatic claim of any proposition. The logic of question and answer proved itself a dialectic of question and answer in which question and answer are constantly exchanged and are dissolved in the movement of understanding.[28]

The important fact about the logic of question and answer is their interconnection. A response is only understood in the context of the question to which it is an answer; a question is only understood in the context of what would count as an answer to it. In the case of dialogue, the meaning of an exchange is created out of the mutual inter-expressions of the participants. When one person speaks to another, the response of the interlocutor is necessary for the determination of the meaning of the first expression and vice versa. It is this inter-connectedness of exchange that Gadamer believes is fundamental for dialogue. In a dialogue, being open to the other requires the possibility that the other person understands the subject matter between than we do. The obvious result is that although we may think we know what we are talking about, we may be mistaken.

More than that though, Gadamer claims that the meaning of what we say only comes to be realized in the exchange. Not only may we not be saying what we mean, the firm links between intention and meaning are broken. Notice that this is not possible according to some theories of language. At work here is therefore is a theory of meaning— a theory which links together dialogue and the logic of question and answer. However, what we can see, then, is that it is not the question and answer model that allows it to function as a model for dialogue; it is the theory of meaning that is at the heart of both dialogue and the question and answer model. The theory of meaning comes from an expressivist theory of language: the same theory of language which grounds the third distinctive feature of Gadamer's account of dialogue—that dialogue is the perfection of language. Consequently the importance of the second distinctive feature of Gadamer's account of dialogue will only become clear once we have analyzed the third distinctive feature in the context of his expressivist theory of meaning. In a recent article Gadamer explicitly connects these features.

In discussing the theme of dialogue I feel myself to be relatively competent. My contribution to this theme in the realm of philosophy has been to stress the fact that language is only properly itself when it is dialogue, where question and answer, answer and question are exchanged with one another. The idea of speaking to someone who is to respond is already implied in the word 'dialogue.' These two aspects are inseparable. Prince Albert Auersperg would call this an 'intrinsic correspondence' and argues that it manifestly resides in language. Language is only fully what it can be when it takes place in dialogue. All of the different forms of language can be seen as various modifications of the more basic form of dialogue, as a slight shift of emphasis in the interplay of question and answer.[29]

The effect of dialogue understood on the model of question and answer plays out in an account of intersubjectivity only in virtue of the effects of the expressive theory of language on subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

               Let us now turn to the third thesis about dialogue that "language is only fully what it can be when it takes place in dialogue [and] ... all of the different forms of language can be seen as various modifications of the more basic form of dialogue, as slight shifts of emphasis in the interplay of question and answer." We have indicated that this is where we expect to find the means for articulating such a social ontology, but that articulation will require two steps. First, we must show that the privileging of dialogue follows from an "expressivist theory of language," and second, we need to present the features of the dialogical social ontology that accompany this expressivist account of language. The central feature of expressivism is the claim that "[i]n expression, something interior is immediately present."[30]

               Gadamer traces this theory of the immanence of meaning in its expression to early medieval attempts to understand the incarnation and the sacrament. About interpreting Augustine he writes that

here the human analog—the mental word, the verbum intellectus—is helpful. This is more than a mere metaphor, for the human relationship between thought and speech corresponds, despite its imperfections, to the divine relationship of the trinity. The inner mental word is just as consubstantial with thought as is God the Son with God the Father.[31]

Just as God is literally present in the consecrated host, the inner word is made present in the expression. Yet Charles Taylor, the philosopher who recently coined the term "expressivism," argues that there is a significant difference between this "pre-Galilean" focus on expression and the later, Romantic creation of "an alternative anthropology, one centered on the categories of expression."[32] In the Augustinean world, the expression was of a Christian-Platonic "ideal order"; in the romantics the expression was of a self. Given the standard intellectual pedigree of hermeneutics (articulated best by Gadamer himself), it is no surprise that the romantic interpretation of expression influences Gadamer's hermeneutics. Although Herder is generally cited as the source of this view of language, for the influence on Gadamer Wilhelm von Humboldt is a more crucial figure. It was Humboldt who first saw that implicated in expressivism is the elevation of dialogue to the telos of language.[33]

               Humboldt's key shift is the recognition that what is expressed in language is not simply the thoughts, moods, or even the self of the expresser, but a shared worldview. "Humboldt's real importance for the problem of hermeneutics lies ... in showing that a language view is a world view. He recognized that the living act of speech, verbal energia, is the essence of language."[34] Language is not a vehicle of meaning in the sense that if we peer into the words we will see the meaning contained there, rather it is the activity of expression. "A word is not a sign that one selects, nor is it a sign that one makes or gives to another; it is not an existent thing that one picks up and gives an ideality of meaning in order to make another being visible through it. ╔Rather the ideality of the meaning lies in the word itself. It is meaningful already."[35] So when we speak of that which is expressed in the expression, it is already misleading. To say that a person is present in the expression is misleading in the sense that it continues to separate the person and the expression. Moreover, when we strip away the too romantic image of an inner world of feelings and an outer world of expressions, we find that language is more than a vehicle of thought; expression is thought, saying is thinking. Understanding—understood hermeneutically not as a subjective process, but as a revelation of the world and as a comportment of a subject to that world—is not only what is expressed, it is indistinguishable from expression. When we are engaged in dialogue, then—when we are engaged in a shared activity of bringing ourselves and our world into words—we are thinking together. Dialogue is more than putting our heads together; it is a form of thinking which is not an individual's. Literally two individuals are sharing thoughts since the thoughts are the dialogue. Gadamer writes,

Speaking with another, which is a way this being together can be accomplished, is not so much one's being toward the object (taking that as something to be communicated) as the sharing of this being toward the object. Thus speech is essentially expressing oneself.[36]

The single voice that occurs in conversation is not surprising once we think through the expressivist theory of language.

               There are two important issues that we have left hanging in our emphasis on Gadamer's expressivism and we must address them before we can claim to be presenting a view that is truly Gadamerian. The first is that we have not mentioned the need for openness to the other. Gadamer writes

If someone is to say something to someone else, it is not enough that there should be a so-called recipient who is there to receive the information. For over and above that there must be a readiness to allow something to be said to us. It is only in this way that the word becomes binding, as it were: it binds one human being with another. This occurs whenever we speak to one another and really enter into genuine dialogue with another.[37]

The emphasis on openness is central to Gadamer's hermeneutics, but it seems to get lost in the universality of expression. The second concern is that we lose the parallel between our relation to others and our relation to our tradition. Few views are more central to Gadamer's hermeneutics than the claim that "[t]radition is a genuine partner in dialogue, and we belong to it, as does the I to the Thou."[38]

               On the first point, we have still to address the question of the intersubjective constitution of the self—the question of social ontology. There are three possible extensions to intersubjectivity: one is that we express ourselves at the same time at which we express the world; another is that when the dialogue turns to the participants of the dialogue—when the Sache is ourselves—then we are actively and explicitly dialogically constituting ourselves; and the third is that in the shared expression of the Sache, we are engaged in a mutual co-constitution which arises not out of the fact that our selves are being expressed, but purely by virtue of the very activity itself. In fact, all three are realizations of a dialogical social ontology, the third, however, is unique to Gadamer's expressivist dialogism. Indeed, Gadamer stresses that "genuine being with one another" only comes in the forgetting of ourselves for the sake of the Sache. Only through losing ourselves in the dialogue do we put ourselves in a position to allow the inter-expressions of the object to become our own. That is to say, only in openness do we allow ourselves to become part of that articulated mutual world. Notice that openness is not a passivity, but a venture and a risk. This displacement of ourselves for the sake of the Sache is of course a main theme of Gadamer's account of play in Truth and Method.

               With respect to the concern about the lost parallels between our relations to others and our relations to traditions, we need to emphasize not only does a tradition share with an interlocutor the activity of expression but, more significantly, a tradition exists only in its expressions. Thus it is only when we start to emphasize Gadamer's expressive dialogism that we can start to appreciate the parallels between dialogue with other subjects and a dialogue with a tradition.

               If our conclusion that expressive dialogism is an appropriately Gadamerian account of intersubjectivity, it should fit what Gadamer has to say about intersubjectivity, although we have been drawing on Gadamer's views throughout, perhaps the crucial test is how expressive dialogism fares when faced with Gadamer's criticisms of I-Thou accounts of intersubjectivity. I-Thou accounts of intersubjectivity, such as Buber's, Gabriel Marcel's, or Mikhail Bakhtin's, are the most prominent forms of dialogism so only to the extent that expressive dialogism can avoid Gadamer's criticisms of I-Thou dialogism can we claim it to be genuinely Gadamerian.

               "To say 'the I' and 'the Thou,'" writes Gadamer, "seems to us, at least since Wittgenstein, no longer quite allowable." He adds :It seems to me an important modification that now one does not only avoid speaking of 'the Thou,' ╔ one speaks of the Other."[39] Gadamer levels four criticisms against I-Thou accounts of intersubjectivity. First, he argues that I-Thou relations are asymmetrical, and speaking of an "other" rather than a Thou can help make clear that the one is the other's other. Second he worries that in I-Thou accounts of intersubjectivity there is a "mystifying substantialization" of the "between" as if a new subject were introduced, the between, which in principle escapes all phenomenological investigation. Third he thinks that I-Thou relations fail to appreciate the way our relations to others are always mediated through language, culture and tradition. Finally, he thinks that those who emphasize I-Thou relations do so in recognition of the limitations of Cartesian accounts of autonomous subjects, but in doing so they preserve the notion of an autonomous subject (which must be qualified dialogically). Instead a new, properly dialogical account of the subject will eliminate the need for an I-Thou corrective supplement.

               Clearly expressive dialogism avoids the third mistake since it focuses on the way that the subject is shaped in and through language. It also avoids the first mistake, as interlocutors in dialogue are symmetrically situated and both participate in the production of meaning. The second objection might be a concern as it might be argued that play functions as a super-subject. After all Gadamer says things like, "The players are not the subjects of play; instead play merely reaches presentation through the players,"[40] and, "[play is] a process that takes place 'in between.'"[41]  However, notice that since the function of play is presentation, play itself is not excluded from phenomenological analysis, even if conceptual access to play is only through play. Therefore, Gadamer's main concern about mystification does not apply; and neither does his concern that play is substantialized. Play does not subsist without the playing of the players, so even though in play the play itself can be seen as constituting the meaning of the outcome, it is dependent for the players on its functioning. If nothing else Gadamer's concerns about substantializing something like the "between" should help us to remember to avoid substantializing similar concepts in philosophical hermeneutics. Finally, is expressive dialogism an attempt to correct the limitations of Cartesian subjectivity in the process maintaining the residue of such an account? I think Gadamer says it best when he closes his essay "Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Subject and Person" with the sentence, "Who thinks of 'language' already moves beyond subjectivity."[42]

               What have we concluded, then, about a possible Gadamerian contribution to the contemporary debates on intersubjectivity? Namely that Gadamer's expressivism leads him into a unique dialogical social ontology. It heavily emphasizes the role of language, like Habermas, but without relying on the idea that we internalize of the expectations of others. It takes expression as a central concept, as does Paul Ricoeur, not, however, because our narrative self-expressions draw upon a shared "thesaurus" of symbols, but because everything we do expresses ourselves and these expressions are always already intersubjectively accomplished. It also is dialogical, yet clearly distinguishable from I-Thou accounts of dialogical intersubjectivity. By explicating these expressive commitments we can understand more clearly Gadamer's mantra of intersubjectivity that "we are in dialogue," for we are expressed in language, and language is only most fully itself in dialogue.


                                                                                                                                                      David Vessey

                                                                                                                                                      University of Chicago

[1] In Continental Philosophy Review, 33/3 (July 2000).

[2] See my "Gadamer's Account of Friendship as an Alternative to an Account of Intersubjectivity" in Philosophy Today 49/5 (2005), 61–67, for how Gadamer uses Aristotle's theory of friendship as a substitute for an account of intersubjectivity.

[3] See "One's Knowledge of Other Minds" in Philosophical Essays (London: Macmillan, 1965).

[4] For Husserl's view see the "Fifth Meditation" from the Cartesian Meditations (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960); for Scheler's view see the chapter "The Perception of Other Minds" added to the second edition of The Nature of Sympathy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954).

[5] See Part Three of Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness (New York: Washington Square Books, 1956).

[6] Martin Heidegger's account of the awareness of others through equipment is found at section 15 of Being and Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).

[7] See J. G. Fichte's Science of Knowledge (New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1970) and Emmanuel Levinas's Totality and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969).

[8] See Martin Buber's I-Thou (New York: Charles Scribner, 1970), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception (New York: Humanities Press, 1962) especially part 2, chapter 4.

[9] For Mead's account of the social self see Mind, Self and Society (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1934); for Habermas' appropriation of Mead see the end of the Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. I: Reason and Rationalization in Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985) and especially his essay "Individuation Through Socialization: On George Herbert Mead's Theory of Subjectivity" in Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), 149-204.

[10] The locus classicus on themes of social ontology is Michael Theunissen's The Other: Studies in the Social Ontology of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Buber, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1984).

[11] Truth and Method (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 358. Hereafter TM.

[12] TM, 446.

[13] TM, 361.

[14] TM, 374.

[15] "Hermeneutics and Logocentrism" in Dialogue and Deconstruction (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 119.

[16] TM, 245.

[17] TM, 300.

[18] TM, 305.

[19] Ideas I (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), 219.

[20] "What is Truth?" in Hermeneutics and Truth, edited by Brice Wachterhauser (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1994), p. 42. This work from 1957 contains his first published use of the phrase the "fusion of horizons."

[21] TM, 302. Also on the same page: "To acquire a horizon means that one learns to look beyond what is close at hand—not in order to look away from it but to see it better, within a larger whole and in a truer proportion."

[22] TM, 303.

[23] TM, 304.

[24] TM, 306.

[25] TM, 377.

[26] Plato's Dialectical Ethics: Phenomenological Interpretations Relating to the Philebus (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991), 37-38.

[27] See James Risser's Hermeneutics and the Voice of the Other: Re-Reading Gadamer's Hermeneutics (SUNY Press: Albany, 1996) for an account of hermeneutic experience primarily in terms of openness to the "voice of the Other."

[28] "The Heritage of Hegel" in Reason in the Age of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), 46. See also TM, 362ff.

[29] "Treatment and Dialogue" in The Enigma of Health (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 127-128

[30] TM, 212. What exactly that something is will vary across versions.

[31] TM, 421.

[32] Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 13.

[33] See Humboldt's On Language: The Diversity of Human Language Structure and Its Influence on the Mental Development of Mankind (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

[34] TM, 442.

[35] TM, 417. Compare this with Maurice Merleau-Ponty's claim that "The word has meaning" (Phenomenology of Perception (New Jersey: Routledge, 1989), 177).

[36] Plato's Dialectical Ethics, 33.

[37] "The Contribution of Poetry to the Search for Truth" in The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 106.

[38] TM, 358.

[39] "Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Subject and Person," 282.

[40] TM, 103.

[41] TM, 109.

[42] "Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Subject and Person," 286.


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