The dialectic of being Gadamer's reading of Plato

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Description: Hans-Georg Gadamer's reading of Plato is a philosophical conversation that spans nearly eight decades. This dissertation sketches some of the main lines of this conversation. Part one focuses on the multiple Platonic voices sounded in Gadamer's most influential book, Truth and Method (1960), while part two addresses the nature and development of Gadamer's understanding of Platonic dialectic in Plato's Dialectical Ethics (1931) and The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy (1978). In the first part of the dissertation, I discuss how Gadamer takes up Plato as both a provocation and a paradigm for some of the central claims made in Truth and Method . On the one hand, Gadamer elicits the effective history of Platonism as a means of provoking his own contrasting reflections concerning the productive character of mimesis and, more broadly, the positive ontological valence of language. On the other hand, Gadamer also fords in the texts of Plato certain paradigms that help determine the presentation of his own views. In particular, Gadamer links the model of Platonic dialectic with his own articulation of the logic of question and answer, and he draws the Platonic conception of the beautiful into his discussion of the finite character of truth and the corresponding universal claim of hermeneutics. In general, my reading suggests that the importance of Plato for an appropriate understanding of philosophical hermeneutics has not yet been sufficiently recognized. In the second part of the dissertation, I discuss certain aspects of Gadamer's interpretation of Plato pertaining to practical philosophy. I argue that Plato's Dialectical Ethics shows Gadamer engaged in a struggle to free himself from the powerful influence of his teacher and mentor, Martin Heidegger. In contrast to Heidegger's strongly Aristotelian reading of Plato, which emphasizes the metaphysical aspirations of dialectic, Gadamer insists on the identity of dialogue and dialectic, thus suggesting that Platonic dialectic retains an irreducibly practical dimension. This claim anticipates Gadamer's later assertion of the fundamental role of dialogue for all substantive discourse. However, Heidegger's influence on Gadamer remains evident in Plato's Dialectical Ethics , above all in Gadamer's concluding remarks, which sharply criticize Plato's supposed attempt to develop a science of the good that would relieve the individual agent of the responsibility of practical judgment. By contrast, Gadamer's later work, T he Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy , emphasizes the continuity between Plato and Aristotle, arguing that Plato rejects the possibility of apprehending the idea of the good on the basis of technical-theoretical knowing. Instead of a science of the good, Gadamer argues that Platonic dialectic much more closely resembles Aristotelian phronesis insofar as it is grounded in the concrete situation, it is able to accommodate difference, and it remains attuned to the indeterminacy that accompanies all determinate insight. I conclude that Gadamer's self-avowed "Platonism" need not belie his status as a post-metaphysical thinker, since his ethical reading of Plato is consonant with his affirmation of the primacy of praxis for all understanding.
Language: English
Format: Degree Work