Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
DUVENAGE, Pieter. The critique of tradition and the tradition of critique. A reconstruction of the debate between Habermas and Gadamer. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp.530-557. ISSN 2224-7912.
In 1967 a debate started between Jürgen Habermas and Hans Georg-Gadamer that remains of academic importance for the humanities. One of the central issues in this debate revolves around the position of the humanities (geesteswetenskappe) in our time. In his famous work, Wahrheit and Methode (1960), Gadamer defended the role of the humanities with concepts such as play, tradition, working-historical consciousness, the hermeneutical circle and the melting of horizons. In a study on the logic of the social sciences, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften (1967), Habermas criticised Gadamer 's work with concepts such as interests, self-reflection, and ideology critique. After a short biographical sketch of Gadamer (1900-2002) and Habermas (born 1929) the argumentative outline of the contribution is provided. The contribution consists of four parts. In the first part Habermas's critique of Gadamer is investigated. It consists of five aspects. In the first place Habermas criticises the concept of tradition in Gadamer (1.1). Against this background Habermas develops his alternative of knowledge interests (1.2). The concept of knowledge interests is linked to three fields of human knowledge: empirical-analytical sciences, historical-hermeneutical sciences, and critical-social sciences. Habermas connects each one of these fields of knowledge to an interest. In the case of empirical sciences the interest is technical, in the case of historical-hermeneutical sciences practical, and in the case of the critical-social sciences it is emancipatory. Habermas then connects the latter interest, which he prefers, with the model of psychoanalysis and the concept of ideology critique (1.3). In the fourth place Habermas provides a sharp critique of the idea of ontology in Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics - and by implication also Heidegger. Finally Habermas also challenges the use of Aristotle in contemporary social and political philosophy - and by implication the use of Aristotle in Gadamer's work (1.5). Gadamer's answer to the debate (section 2) follows the same thematic line as that offered by Habermas. Gadamer is not as critical about the role of tradition in philosophy and more particularly in the humanities (2.1). He does not put reason above tradition. In this process Gadamer emphasises the dynamic nature of tradition. Such a dynamic concept of tradition is further linked to a reciprocal relationship between the subject and object. Gadamer develops this idea in his major work Truth and Method in three directions. In the first part the reciprocal relationship between subject and object is explained through the ontological implications of the work of art. In the second part the concept of aesthetic play is linked to history (in the form of the working-historical consciousness), and in the third part to language as the medium of hermeneutical experience. This defence of the concept of tradition then allows Gadamer to criticise Habermas's use of the concept of self-reflection and his model ofpsychoanalysis and ideology critique (2.2 to 2.3). Against this background it comes as no surprise that Gadamer defends the ontological motif in his work (2.4). Finally Gadamer also defends the application of Aristotle's practical philosophy in the contemporary world - especially through the concept of phronesis. In the third section Gadamer and Habermas's careers after the debate are reconstructed. In the case of Gadamer he was obliged to look again at the critical potential of philosophical hermeneutics. Gadamer still remained convinced that Habermas's use of critical reflection is too rationalisticfor the humanities. Habermas, on his part, made a more radical change than Gadamer after the debate. He left his model of self-reflection (and psychoanalysis and ideology critique) behind for the concept of communication. This move is worked out in Habermas's magnum opus, The Theory of Communicative Action, and subsequent work. Has Habermas, thus, moved nearer to hermeneutics? This question is answered in an ambigious manner at the end of this section. In the final section (4) the debate between Habermas and Gadamer is placed in the context of the humanities. This move opens questions such as: Do we need an interpretative or social critique in the humanities? What roles do reason and tradition play here? Do we need here a critique of tradition or a tradition of critique? What is meant with spirit in the humanities ("gees in die geesteswetenskappe")? Must we think about spirit in an ontological manner like Gadamer following Heidegger), or in a self-reflective way (the early Habermas), or in terms of the argumentative discourse of communicative action (the later Habermas)?
Keywords : Jürgen Habermas; Hans-Georg Gadamer; critical theory; knowledge interests; selfreflection; psychoanalysis; ideology critique; ontology; Aristotle; play; tradition; working-historical consciousness; the hermeneutical circle; melting of horizons.