Gadamer was born in Marburg, Germany, as the son of a pharmaceutical chemist who later also served as the rector of the university there. Gadamer resisted his father’s urging to take up the natural sciences and grew more and more interested in the humanities. He grew up and studied in Breslau under Hönigswald, but soon moved back to Marburg to study with the neo-Kantian philosophers Paul Natorp and Nicolai Hartmann. He defended his dissertation in 1922.
Shortly thereafter, Gadamer visited Freiburg and began studying with Martin Heidegger, who was then a promising young scholar who had not yet received a professorship. He thus became one of a group of students such as Leo Strauss, Karl Löwith, and Hannah Arendt. He and Heidegger became close, and when Heidegger received a position at Marburg, Gadamer followed him there. It was Heidegger’s influence that gave Gadamer’s thought its distinctive cast and led him away from the earlier neo-Kantian influences of Natorp and Hartmann.
Gadamer habilitated in 1929 and spent most of the early 1930s lecturing in Marburg. Unlike Heidegger, Gadamer was strongly anti-Nazi, although he was not politically active during the Third Reich. He did not receive a paid position during the Nazi years and never entered the Party; only towards the end of the War did he receive an appointment at Leipzig. In 1946, he was found to be untainted by Nazism by the American occupation forces and named rector of the university. Communist East Germany was little more to Gadamer’s liking than the Third Reich, and he left for West Germany, accepting first a position in Frankfurt am Main and then the succession of Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg in 1949. He remained in this position, as emeritus, until his death in 2002.
It was during this time that he completed his magnum opus Truth and Method (in 1960) and engaged in his famous debate with Jürgen Habermas over the possibility of transcending history and culture in order to find a truly objective position to criticize society from. The debate was inconclusive, but marked the beginning of warm relations between the two men. It was Gadamer who secured Habermas’s first professorship in Heidelberg. Another attempt to engage Jacques Derrida proved less enlightening because the two thinkers had so little in common that it proved impossible to find common ground, but after Gadamer’s death, Derrida has called this one of the worst debacles of his life and expressed, in the main obituary for Gadamer, his great personal and philosophical respect.
Major Works of Hans-Georg Gadamer
– Philosophical Hermeneutics (1976)
– Reason in the Age of Science (1976)
– Hegel’s Dialectic (1976)
– Dialogue and Dialectic (1980)
– Philosophical Apprenticeships (1985)
– The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays (1986)
– Truth and Method (1989)
– Plato’s Dialectical Ethics (1991)
– Applied Hermeneutics: … on Education, Poetry, and History (1992)
– Heidegger’s Ways (1994)
– Literature and Philosophy in Dialogue (1994)
– The Enigma of Health (1996)