This paper deals with Hans-Georg Gadamer’s theory of the manner in which cognition depends on its historical context. In section II the historical background of this theory is briefly described. In section III Gadamer’s claim that context-dependence involves unreflected presuppositions (Vorurteile) is discussed; throughout the paper, different senses of this claim are distinguished. Section IV examines Gadamer's corresponding claim that such presuppositions are of a general kind, with the result that the manifold of seemingly opposed views which rely on them is overrated by individuals sharing a historical context.
Gadamer argues that a historical context is cognitively homogeneous in an unreflected way, and that the contextual specificity of presuppositions has been underestimated. The antithesis of this argument is the view, frequently held by philosophers in the Enlightenment tradition, that contextual influences are slight and may in principle always be overcome, and that historical contexts are basically similar due to universal forms of thought and experience. In this paper, the concept of the Enlightenment tradition is used in a rather loose fashion so as to refer to positions involving one or both of the following claims; (a) that contextually induced presuppositions can be overcome through a decision to scrutinize them, and (b) that thought is only slightly affected by its context as a result of the universal forms on which it relies. Kant seems to affirm both (a) and (b), but these claims are not mutually implicative insofar as assent to the former does not require assent to the latter. Popper provides an example of this in stressing the importance of what he refers to as background knowledge provided by tradition, thus denying (b), while at the same time arguing, in accordance with (a), that this knowledge can in principle always be critically overthrown. By contrast, Gadamer denies both (a) and (b). In section V it is claimed that Gadamer's arguments, while not being outright failures, nevertheless overlook certain crucial possibilities in this regard.
2003. Vol. 57, no 1, 75-104 p.