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Cognition and Cultural Context: An Inquiry into Gadamer's Theory of Context-Dependence
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Philosophy and Linguistics. Filosofi.
2001 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study deals with the problem of the context-dependence of thought, as dealt with by the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Gadamer stresses what he sees as the difficulty of bringing to awareness and criticising influences which preserve such dependence, and the role of traditions (Überlieferungen) in this regard. This study seeks to distinguish between different ways in which Gadamer's claims in this respect might be understood and to assess them.

Gadamer affirms the cohesion of historical contexts, thereby arguing that it typically involves basic presuppositions (Vorurteile) that underlie seemingly divergent views in a way which is not reflected on by individuals sharing such a context. However, in opposition to this claim, it may be argued that contexts contain a shared conceptual framework, or a preoccupation with certain problems, but that they may nevertheless be heterogeneous in terms of presuppositions as such. But Gadamer holds that the cognitive heterogeneity of contexts is easily overrated insofar as common presuppositions are not questioned or even detected.

A central issue of this study is the extent to which unreflected context-dependence persists in the modern era. Gadamer, while not denying that the very notion of context-dependence requires that it is at least partly reflected, argues that the scope of this reflection has been overestimated, notably by philosophers in the Enlightenment tradition; he refers to Karl Popper and Jürgen Habermas as examples of this overestimation. According to Gadamer, the current awareness of context-dependence and of, e.g., the corresponding problem of anachronism in historical study, surpasses that of previous epochs, but this difference is nevertheless a matter of degree rather than kind.

In what sense is it correct to say that the very notion of unreflected context-dependence requires reflection, and that it therefore casts doubt on the claims made by Gadamer himself? According to a rather frequent objection to Gadamer, awareness of context-dependence occurs in a situation in which this dependence is reduced. Conversely, an individual subject to unreflected context-dependence would not be able to recognise his or her predicament in this respect. In this study, this objection is discussed in connection with general problems of interpretation in cultural and historical studies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Department of Philosophy and Linguistics, Umeå University , 2001. , 213 p.
Umeå studies in philosophy, ISSN 1650-1748 ; 4
Keyword [en]
Context-dependence, presupposition, tradition, historicism, hermeneutics, Gadamer, Dilthey, Heidegger
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-6198ISBN: 91-7305-128-4OAI: diva2:145866
Available from: 2007-02-08 Created: 2007-02-08 Last updated: 2012-11-19Bibliographically approved

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