et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis


Gadamer On Strauss: An Interview

FORTINThere are many philosophers and political theorists in this country who
would like to know more about your lifelong relationship with the late Leo Strauss.
Perhaps you could begin by describing the atmosphere at the School of Marburg in the
early 1920s. That was obviously an exciting period, possibly the most exciting
period in twentieth-century intellectual history. Was there a sense of that
excitement among the students?

GADAMER We were living in an age of great political change. Everyone was aware of
the impact of the new parliamentary democracy in a country that was not prepared for
it. The general feeling was one of disorientation. One day-I was only a youngster
then-a number of us got together and asked: "What should we do?" "How can the world
be reconstructed?" The answers were very different. Some thought we ought to follow
Max Weber; others, Otto von Gierke; others still, Rabindranath Tagore, who was the
most popular poet in Germany immediately after World War I, thanks to some moving
translations of his plays. (He was a good friend of Paul Natorp and occasionally
came to Germany. I saw him once: an enormous figure with the face of a prophet.
Fantastic! Natorp himself was a giant in the guise of a dwarf.) These concerns were
shared by the young Leo Strauss as well. He, too, was looking around in search of
some orientation. He had studied under Cassirer at Hamburg but had little sympathy
for his political views.

FORTIN When did you first meet Strauss?

GADAMER In 1920 or thereabouts. He himself never studied at Marburg, but his home
town (Kirchhain) was only a few miles away and he sometimes used our library, of
which I was the so-called "administrator," that is to say, the person in charge of
procuring the books requested by students. Our budget was not very large but the
library was a good one. Those initial encounters still stand out in my memory. He
was short and I was tall. I especially recall that little look of his: furtive,
suspicious, ironic, and always slightly amused. We had a common friend, Jacob Klein,
who alerted me to the fact that Strauss harbored certain misgivings about me. Not
that I had anything against Jews-I doubt whether he ever thought that-but he must
have sensed in me the typical arrogance of a young student who is proud of his
success. He was probably right. After that I was very careful not to offend him,
knowing how sensitive he was. We were on good terms and talked now and then but
otherwise had few relations with each other.

Our first real acquaintance came much later, in 1933, when I availed myself of the
opportunity to travel abroad. Germany was undergoing another radical change and no
one was allowed to take more than 300 marks with him. For me that was a small
fortune and, to that extent, hardly a restriction. But it was nevertheless a
warning. I was bright enough to see that before long we would not be allowed a
single penny for such purposes. I went to Paris. Strauss was there on a Rockefeller
grant and we spent a very pleasant ten days together. Among other things, he
introduced me to Kojeve and took me to a Jewish restaurant. We talked a good deal
about the situation in Germany and the French reaction to it prior to Hitler's
coming to power. One day we went to the movies. The newsreel contained a segment
entitled, "German Nudism," which turned out to be a report on a recent athletic
event. The "nudism" referred to was that of the athletes clad in sports attire! The
event had the aspect of a military parade-as you know, we are masters of
organization-and the participants looked a bit like robots. The French, who were
still unaccustomed to these things, found it ludicrous that human beings should be
so completely regimented. The whole theatre immediately burst into laughter.1 All
of this was totally new to me who, as a young teacher with no traveling allowance,
had never been outside of Germany.

Afterwards we stayed in fairly regular contact. Strauss sent me his books. The one
on Hobbes I found to be of particular interest since it was related to my own
research on the political thought of the Sophists. That happened to be one of my
great concerns at the time, although I was forced to abandon it when it became too
dangerous to discuss political matters in Germany. One could not talk about the
Sophists without alluding to Carl Schmitt, one of the leading theorists of the Nazi
party. So I turned to more neutral subjects, such as Aristotle's physics.
After the war, Strauss came to Germany and I invited him to give a lecture (at
Heidelberg, in 1954) As I recall, he spoke on Socrates. Alexander Rustow, who
attended the lecture, disagreed with what he said but was utterly captivated by his
charm, his wit, and the elegance of his presentation. Rustow, then in his late
sixties, was a man of considerable stature. He had been a pupil of Max Weber and had
succeeded him in the chair at Heidelberg. He was a twentieth-century Voltairian of
sorts, who wrote some fine books on industrial society but was also an excellent
classical scholar.

Strauss and I spent the rest of the day together. My wife marveled at the way in
which he kept coming back to the same problems, especially when we talked about
Plato. Some of these problems recurred in our published correspondence.2 They
revealed the strange overlapping of our positions along with a number of important
divergences. The main divergence had to do with the question of the Ancients and the
Moderns: to what extent could this famous seventeenth-century quarrel be reopened in
the twentieth century and was it still possible to side with the Ancients against
the Moderns? I argued that this kind of debate was necessary, that it challenged the
modern period to find its own evidence, but that the choice was not really an open
one. I tried to convince Strauss that one could recognize the superiority of Plato
and Aristotle without being committed to the view that their thought was immediately
recoverable and that, even though we have to take seriously the challenge which they
present to our own prejudices, we are never spared the hermeneutical effort of
finding a bridge to them.

I forgot to mention that much earlier, in the late twenties, I wrote a paper on
phronesis in Aristotle for my classics teacher, Paul Friedlander.3 Friedlander was
a Platonist who did not have much use for Aristotle. I was intrigued by the way
Strauss handled the problem of the tension between Plato and Aristotle but had never
heard a real answer to that question. So I sent him a copy of the article. He wrote
me a letter (destroyed during the war) in which he praised it but objected to my
using certain modern terms, such as "sedimentation," to elucidate Aristotle's
thought. That was exactly the point on which we disagreed. To go into the meaning of
a text does not require us to speak its language. One cannot speak the language of
another epoch. I later wrote a critical essay on this, inspired by Hans Rose's book,
Klassik als kunstlerische Denkform des Abendlands (Munich, 1937). 4 Rose was an art
historian who consistently tried to avoid modern terminology in describing the
classics. This still did not prevent him from entitling one of his chapters "Die
Personlichkeit" ("Personality"), which is obviously not a classical word.

FORTIN To come back to Marburg for a moment, who was the leader of the School in the
1920s? Natorp?

GADAMER Yes, he was. But, you know, for the younger generation the leader is always
the one who has not yet been discovered, and that was not Natorp; it was Nicolai
Hartmann, no question. For us, he was the great attraction. Marburg also had an
outstanding faculty of romance literature with Curtius, a good friend of mine,
followed by Leo Spitzer, Erich Auerbach, and Auerbach's successor, Werner Krauss-
four distinguished scholars. Curtius's predecessor had been Eduard Wechssler, who
later moved to Berlin.

FORTIN What made Hartmann different from the others?

GADAMER Under the influence of Scheler he had begun to move away from the
transcendental idealism of Cohen and Natorp. He had been a pupil of both and above
all of Natorp, but he was especially impressed by Cohen, our most shaman-like
figure. When one reads Cohen's books today, one finds them in a way empty. They are
written in a stern, fragmentary, and dictatorial style. There is hardly any
argumentation in them. But he had a strong personality. Strauss also had a high
regard for him. He died in 1918. We never met him. The story that Strauss told me
about him came from Franz Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig visited Cohen in Marburg one day
and asked him how he could be so taken up with modern science and still hold to the
biblical doctrine of creation; at which point Cohen began to hedge. As for Hartmann,
he was a typical Baltic man with the Russian student's habit of drinking tea from
the late morning to the following morning. He always worked well into the night.
This prompted Heidegger to remark jokingly that when Hartmann's light went out, his
went on. Heidegger, who gave his lectures at 7:00 A.M., started his day very early,
rising at four or five o'clock, which was about the time Hartmann went to bed.

FORTIN Strauss used to say that the atmosphere at Marburg was very provincial.

GADAMER Yes, in the sense that we lived in an ivory tower, absorbed in philosophy
and paying little attention to the rest of the world. That continued to be the cafe
after Heidegger's arrival-a very exciting situation. But in those years Strauss was
hardly ever in Marburg.

FORTIN When did Heidegger first start teaching there and what did he lecture on?

GADAMER In 1923. I do not recall the exact title of his first course, but it dealt
with the origins of modern philosophy. He concentrated on Descartes and developed a
series of twenty-three questions. Everything was very dramatic and well organized.
Hartmann, who came to the first lecture honoris causa, told me afterwards that not
since Cohen had he seen such a powerful teacher. Twenty three questions, that was
typical of Heidegger. I doubt whether he ever got beyond the fifth one. And then
there was this peculiar radicalism of his, I mean the habit of radicalizing
questions almost ad infinitum. Some of his followers are living caricatures of him,
forever asking empty questions which, through being radicalized, lose all contact
with their deeper roots.

FORTIN What about the students and student life?

GADAMER There were close relations between Marburg and Freiburg. Students went from
one place to the other, as was the custom in Germany. There was an acute housing
shortage after the war and the biggest problem was to find living accommodations. I
changed universities only once, when I went to Munich, but only because one of my
friends had offered me a room. Munich was not an important philosophic center. The
dominant trend there was phenomenology, with Pfander and Geiger. Heidelberg was well
known because of the shadow of Max Werner and the presence of Karl Jaspers and Karl
Mannheim. Jaspers enjoyed an outstanding reputation as the leader of a seminar. His
star was already high when I was a student. Hamburg, originally founded as a
maritime institute, had only recently grown into a full university. The city, which
was wealthy, poured a lot of money into it. It had Bruno Snell and Cassirer, the
greatest scholar to come from the School of Marburg. Cassirer was a voracious reader
with a phenomenal memory. He was elegant, reserved, and very kind, but one would
hardly describe him as a powerful personality. He had neither Heidegger's dramatic
quality nor Hartmann's talent for reaching young people. As for Frankfurt, it had
not yet come into its own. The university was founded in the 1920s but it was not
long before it began to attract attention. Riezler, who became its president,
developed it. It eventually acquired its established scholars in people like
Horkheimer, Adorno, and Tillich.

FORTIN Your discussion of Strauss in Truth and Method opens with the remark that his
teaching at Chicago was "one of the encouraging features of our world" (p. 482).
What did you mean by that?

GADAMER Oh, that's easy. My impression is that he attracted students by his courage
to proclaim what no one else would have dared to say. Although Chicago was a citadel
of progressivism, he had the guts to answer "No" to the question of whether one
should believe in the progress of the human mind. It was clear to me that the
University of Chicago was an unusual place. I had met Hutchins in Frankfurt in 1947
and found him to be a very open and farsighted man. I met Adler. I also met McKeon,
who was a real boss. So I could imagine some of the things I had heard about
Strauss: how he, too, was ambitious and tried to profile himself against McKeon.
Later on, when I started coming to America, I was able to observe at first hand the
dedication of so many of his students in various parts of the country: you, Allan
Bloom, Richard Kennington, Werner Dannhauser, Hilail Gildin, Stanley Rosen, and
others. I was frequently asked to speak at places about which I had never heard and
where I knew of no one who might be acquainted with my work. Whenever that happened,
I could be sure that the invitation came from a Straussian. They were always kind
and open because Strauss had said some nice things about me and about our 1954
meeting in Heidelberg, to which he often referred as one of the most profitable
conversations he had had in a long time.

FORTIN Do you think Strauss would have been better off in Germany as a teacher?
Would he have been able to do as much there? More perhaps?

GADAMER No, his success was independent of such matters for the simple reason that
there was nothing phony about it. You know better than I do how he drew good
students, cared for them, and stayed in touch with them. I can only see the effect,
not the way it was produced. My feeling is that if he had been in Germany he would
likewise have founded a real school. I did not realize until you told me how large
his classes were. From his description in the 1950s, I thought he never had more
than six or eight students.

FORTIN What would you identify as his major contribution? You spoke a while ago
about his having revived the old quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns. Does
that have something to do with it?

GADAMER Yes, although I personally learned a great deal from his book on Hobbes. For
the first time somebody was attempting to see Hobbes not only as a British
counterpart of the new foundation of the epistemology of the sciences but as a
moralist whose relationship to the Sophists could be explained by means of an
analysis of his views on civil society. That made a deep impression on me. I realize
that this is now a much debated question and that Strauss himself had second
thoughts about his book. But that was not my field and to read something in this
style was a revelation. There was also something very personal in his image of
Hobbes as a man who hated the English political system and suffered greatly at the
hands of British society. There is a good deal of Strauss in the Hobbes book.
The other book that I would single out is Persecution and the Art of Writing, where
one can see both the positive and the negative or dangerous consequences of
persecution for the hermeneutical problematic. The question that it raises is an
enormously important one: how can one convey and express thoughts that run counter
to contemporary trends or the commonly accepted opinions of one's society? The
question was particularly relevant to my own studies in Plato, where the issue of
public opinion and censorship comes up in even mole acute fashion. It took the life
of Socrates. There is always the possibility that anything worth saying will arouse
opposition. One cannot be a thinker without exposing oneself to it. I pretty much
agree with Strauss on that point.

FORTIN In Truth and Method you also refer to his rediscovery of the esoteric mode of
writing or what you call "conscious distortion, camouflage and concealment" (p. 488).

GADAMER I was thinking mainly of Spinoza. He, too, had a special significance for me
as a precursor of the modern historical consciousness. I was struck by the way
Strauss treated the Theologico-Political Treatise and in particular by his analysis
of Spinoza's attempt to explain miracles in terms of the cultural agenda. I studied
Strauss's essays on Spinoza and Maimonides very closely. My feeling was that he was
right as far as Maimonides was concerned but that the same method did not apply
equally well to Spinoza. There is always the possibility that the inconsistencies
uncovered in the works of an author are due to some confusion on his part. Maybe
this only reflects the confusion in my own mind. As I see it, the hermeneutical
experience is the experience of the difficulty that we encounter when we try to
follow a book, a play, or a work of art step by step, in such a way as to allow it
to obsess us and lead us beyond our own horizon. It is by no means certain that we
can ever recapture and integrate the original experiences encapsulated in those
works. Still, taking them seriously involves a challenge to our thinking and
preserves us from the danger of agnosticism or relativism. Strauss was willing to
take seriously the texts that he confronted. I resented as much as' he did the
assumed superiority of the scholar who thinks he can improve Plato's logic, as if
Plato had not been able to think logically. On that score we were in complete

Needless to say, Strauss's attention to the external or dramatic elements of Plato's
and Xenophon's works was very congenial to me. In this, I followed Friedlander to
some extent but tried to go beyond him. I learned something from Hildebrandt's book
on Plato, for whom Hildebrandt had a sensitive ear. 5 He was not a philosopher but a
well educated psychiatrist who had a good feel for young people. This enabled him to
see things in the Platonic dialogues that no one else could see.

FORTIN Strauss credited Klein with having rediscovered the importance of the
dramatic features of the Platonic dialogues. To what extent is this true?

GADAMER There was a certain symbiosis between Klein and me. Klein had already left
Marburg when I began to study the classics with Friedlander, but he often came back;
so there was a genuine exchange. Friedlander did not influence Klein directly,
although he did so through me. I would hesitate to say that Klein was the only one
responsible for the rediscovery. However, he had a better knowledge of philosophy
than Friedlander, and so did I. Together we had the merit of relating the dramatic
elements of the dialogues to the philosophical problems with which they deal. I gave
some courses on Plato's dialectics in which I treated the Sophist and the
Theaetetus. From the center of my own studies, I tried to demonstrate that even in
these late dialogues there is a certain living communication and hence that they
contain more than is explicitly stated in the text. We were both struck by the fact
that a proper attention to their dramatic component was crucial to an understanding
of Plato's thought. That was the import of Klein's and Friedlander's discovery.
Strauss extended this to the area of political theory. It is amazing to see how
great the impact of Friedlander's book has been even on the college level, here as
well as in Germany.

The only thing I would add is that in Germany philosophy is more at the forefront of
Platonic studies. As a result, there is less of a tendency to overemphasize the
dramatic setting of the dialogues than there is among Klein's and Strauss's second
and third generation followers. I sometimes receive papers from them which abound in
all sorts of clever but unfounded interpretations. Just yesterday, 1 had a
conversation with a young student who tried to establish a connection between the
circular and somewhat comical dialectic of the Parmenides and the fact that the
meeting with Parmenides takes place on the occasion of the Panathenaic games. I
pointed out that that was all very nice but that he had to find some support for his
assertion, that its relevance had to be demonstrated from the text itself, and that
so far we knew no more than that it might be warranted.

Klein himself did not always avoid that trap. Recently, somebody showed me a copy of
his lecture on the Phaedo, in which he says some crazy things. He points out that at
the death of Socrates fourteen persons were present. So far, so good. But he then
proceeds to make a detailed comparison between these fourteen characters and the
fourteen hostages Theseus had once rescued from the Minotaur with the ship that was
still sent on an annual mission to Delos for the purpose of commemorating this
event. That is Talmud in the wrong place.

FORTIN That method of reading texts has often been described as "talmudic"
or "rabbinical." Is that the right way to talk about it?

GADAMER There are elements of that, at least in Strauss, just as there are in
Salomon Maimon (1754-1800), one of the first Jewish philosophers of the Kantian era.
Maimon wrote a very interesting autobiography in which he traces the impact of the
Jewish school system on his own thinking. The book is revealing because we have a
parallel here, particularly as regards the experience of suppression. Hesse, the
province from which Strauss hailed, was known for its anti-Semitism in the early
decades of this century.

FORTIN In his correspondence with you, Strauss takes issue with some of your
statements concerning the "relativity of all human values" (for example, Truth and
Method, p. 53). You certainly do not consider yourself a relativist. If I understand
you correctly, you are reacting in your own way against relativism. Strauss was
apparently not convinced that you had succeeded in overcoming it. Do you take his
criticism to be a serious one?

GADAMER I replied to his letter but he broke off the correspondence. I tried
indirectly to challenge him in an appendix to the second edition of Truth and Method
(pp. 482-491), but he did not reply to that either. We met again afterwards and I
saw that he was very cordial. One day in the course of a discussion I referred to an
article of mine and he said: "But you never sent it to me!" I told him it would have
been pointless to send along everything 1 wrote since much of it was foreign to his
interests. He replied, "Oh, no. I am always interested in what you write." I found
that very touching. I mention it not because it reflects on my own worth but only to
suggest that we were good friends. On top of that, there was the overwhelming
resonance that I found among his former students. All kinds of doors were open to me
when I came to this country. That also says something about his loyalty. I am not
suggesting that these people demanded full agreement from me.

FORTIN They would have been disappointed! Strauss seems to have attached more
importance than you do to the crisis of our time, to what Heidegger calls
the "darkening of the world," to the cataclysmic crash of all horizons of meaning
and value.6 According to him, this is the situation out of which the new
hermeneutics arises, one that is characterized by the total lack of agreement about
fundamental issues and in which the groundlessness of all hitherto commonly accepted
notions is disclosed. You seem to make light of that.

GADAMER That is a crucial question for me as well. The radicalism to which you
allude is related to Strauss's remark about the fact that I take my cue from
Dilthey, whereas Heidegger takes his from Nietzsche. That is in a way true. Of
course, Dilthey is more of a contemporary of Nietzsche and is especially useful as
the mediator of German Idealism, Hegel, Schleiermacher, and the romantic feeling.
But behind this difference lies the central issue of the place of conceptual
thinking as such. I think that without some agreement, some basic agreement, no
disagreement is possible. In my opinion, the primacy of disagreement is a prejudice.
This is what Heidegger called die Sorge fur die erkannte Erkenntnis; that is, the
preoccupation with "cognized cognition," the commitment to certitude, the primacy of
epistemology, the monologue of the scientists. My own perspective is always the
hermeneutics of the whole world. We have to become aware of the limitations of the
methodology of the sciences or the epistemology of the monologue. Beneath the
structures of the opinion-making technology on which our society is based one finds
a more basic experience of communication involving some agreement. That is why I
have always emphasized the role of friendship in Greek ethics. I allude to this in
my discussion with Strauss (cf. T.M., p. 485). My inaugural lecture, that is, the
public lecture with which one begins one's teaching career, was on this subject.7
My point was that what fills two books in Aristotle's Ethics occupies no more than a
page in Kant. I was twenty-eight years old then and not yet mature enough to grasp
the full implications of that fact; but I anticipated them somehow and one of my
deepest insights (if I may say so) had to do with what I described as the tension
between the thinker and society-one of Strauss's topics.

Here again, however, one should not lose sight of the dual nature of the
relationship. Hence my insistence on the positive side of Socrates's conformism. I
do not believe one can call Socrates an atheist, as Bloom does. Both Socrates and
Plato maintained a certain distantiated conformism with the cult, but behind it
lurks the conviction that there is the divine, something we are never able to
conceive. That, in my view, is what underlies the Phaedrus and the other dialogues.
Strauss might agree with me, but I doubt whether Bloom would, or so I gather from
the discussion we had about the Ion and, later, about the Euthyphro, where the
conflict between us was even sharper. Bloom took the position that Euthyphro acted
in a spirit of genuine piety, as opposed to Socrates, who was emancipated from the
religious tradition. I disagreed completely. I said, "No, No! That borders on
sophistry, conventionalism, hypocrisy." Socrates is the really pious one. He argues
on grounds of piety when he =maintains that one should always respect one's father.
Euthyphro's denunciation of his father illustrates the noble conflict that is
typical of all of the Socratic dialogues. Someone claims a special competence; he is
then convicted by means of a logical argument based on the real figure of Socrates,
to whom we are always led back. Bloom defended the opposite view, arguing that
Euthyphro was the pious one and Socrates the atheist. I think that is completely
wrong. So we had a fierce but friendly altercation.

I never discussed these matters with Strauss or Klein at any great length. Strauss
avoided them. He was very amicable and I took great pleasure in listening to him,
but whenever philosophical issues came up, he shied away from them.

FORTIN What do you think of the idea that hermeneutical ontology belongs to a
transitional period, one which coincides precisely with the shattering of all
horizons? Doesn't Heidegger himself look forward to the emergence of a new
consensus, to the appearance of new gods, for whom we can only wait? Strauss's point
is that we shall then find ourselves in a posthermeneutical situation, just as we
were in a prehermeneutical situation when German Idealism was still dominant.

GADAMER There I disagree not only with Strauss but with Heidegger as well. The point
that you raise is closely connected with Strauss's remark to the effect that I work
from Dilthey rather than from Nietzsche. That I regard as a fair statement. What it
means is that for me the tradition remains a living tradition. I am a Platonist. I
agree with Plato, who said that there is no city in the world in which the ideal
city is not present in some ultimate sense. You also know the famous statement about
the gang of robbers whose members need some sense of justice in order to get along
with one another.8 Well, that is indeed my perhaps overly conservative position. As
you know, we are formed between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Academic teachers
always come too late. In the best instance, they can train young scholars, but their
function is not to build up character. After the war, I was invited to give a
lecture in Frankfurt on what the German professor thinks of his role as an educator.
The point that I made was that professors have no role to play in that regard.
Implied in the question at hand is a certain overestimation of the possible impact
of the theoretical man. That is the thought behind my attitude. I do not follow
Heidegger at all when he talks about new gods and similar things. I follow him only
in what he does with the empty or extreme situation. This is his only point of
agreement with Nietzsche, who likewise anticipated an extreme position of
nothingness. Of course he ended in self-contradiction.

Heidegger was not a Nietzschean in that sense. When he first started coming out with
his mysterious allusions to the return of the gods, we were really shocked. I
contacted him again and saw that that was not what he had in mind. It was a fa?on de
parler. Even his famous statement, Nur ein Gott kann uns retten, 9 means only that
calculating politics is not what will save us from the impending catastrophe.
Nevertheless, I would criticize that too. Heidegger sometimes says more than he can
cover, as he does, for example, when he looks ahead to the emergence of a new world.
So I would deny that it makes any sense to speak of a posthermeneutical epoch. That
would be something like the recaptured immediacy of the speculative ideas, which I
cannot admit. In my opinion, it involves a confusion or a categorical fallacy. It is
at best a metaphorical way of speaking and is meant to suggest only that, if we go
on in this manner, technology will be enshrined as a terminal state, a final world
government will come into being, and everything will be regulated by an omnipotent
bureaucracy. That is the ultimate or extreme situation; and, of course,
selfdestruction can occur on the way to it. I do not believe in this extreme
elaborated by Nietzsche. Heidegger's intention was merely to bring to light the
onesidedness of this Western way, culminating in our present-day technological

In one of my latest articles on Heidegger, I try to show that Heidegger was very far
from any sectarian stance. 10 He did not believe in Confucius and other such exotic
novelties. He was only suggesting that there exist in the Far East certain remnants
of culture from which we, who have glimpsed the impasse of Western civilization,
could possibly benefit. On the other hand, when he discusses the work of art and
maintains that there is something beyond conceptual thinking which can claim to be
true, he has my wholehearted approval. That seems basic to me and here I share his
position completely.

FORTIN You seem to regard hermeneutical philosophy as the whole of philosophy.

GADAMER It is universal.

FORTIN Its universality implies a certain infinity; yet you insist a great deal on
human finitude.

GADAMER They go together. Finitude corresponds to Hegel's "bad infinity." What I
mean is that the "good infinity," that is, the self-articulation of the concept, the
self-regulation of the system, or whatever it may be,' seems to me to be an
anticipation of a new immediacy. That I cannot go along with. The emphasis on
finitude is justtotle and doesn't one have to come to grips with that notion as well?

GADAMER Aristotle's main point-and it is also Plato's-is that science, like the
technai, like any form of skill or craftsmanship, is knowledge that has to be
integrated into the good life of the society by means of phronesis. The ideal of a
political science that is not based on the lived experience of phronesis would be
sophistic from Aristotle's point of view. I do not deny that the clarification of
the apodictic or demonstrative dimension exemplified by mathematics and another way
of saying that there is always one step more. Bad infinity in the Hegelian sense
belongs to finitude. As I once wrote, this bad infinity is not as bad as it sounds.

FORTIN You have done a lot of fine work on Aristotle and especially on his notion of
phronesis. What troubles some people is that you seem to stress phronesis at the
expense of episteme. Wasn't science or episteme equally important for Aristotle and
doesnt one have to come to grips with that notion as well?

GADAMER Aristotles main point----and it is also Platos----is that science, like
the technai, like any form of skill or craftsmanship, is knowledge that has to be
integrated into the good life of the society by means of phronesis. The ideal of a
political science that is not based on the lived experience of phronesis would be
sophistic from Aristotles point of view. I do not deny that the clarification of
the apodictic or demonstrative dimension exemplified by mathematics and especially
by the theoretical mode of Euclidean mathematics is a great achievement in the eyes
of Aristotle. But the idea of the good lies beyond the scope of any science. That is
very clear in Plato. We cannot conceptualize the idea of the good.

FORTIN Strauss once said that as a young man he had two interests-God and politics.
He also said on a number of occasions that the greatest philosophers of the
twentieth century- Bergson, Husserl, James, Heidegger, Whitehead-differed from their
predecessors by reason of the virtual absence of any political dimension from their
thought. Their philosophies may have had grave political implications but they
themselves never dealt thematically with political issue. Moreover, Strauss tends to
see politics as the cultural matrix of the historical consciousness. When we speak
of an historian without qualification, we generally mean a political historian. You
mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that you were once interested in the
political thought of the Sophists but had to abandon that pursuit because of the
situation in Germany. Do you still recognize the overarching importance of politics?

GADAMER This is the other side of the same problem, that of the place of the
theoretical man in society. All is not negative here inasmuch as the theoretical man
remains subordinated to phronesis. One of my recent articles, which has been in the
press for years-it is being published in Greece and Greece needs years-deals with
the problem of the theoretical and the practical life in Aristotle's Ethics. In it I
try to show that it is always a mistake to stress the tension between these two
lives or to say that, on the basis of his premises, Aristotle had to prefer the
political life and defended the primacy of the theoretical life only out of
deference to Plato. The article demonstrates the absurdity of that view. We are
mortals and not gods. If we were gods, the question could be posed as an
alternative. Unfortunately, we do not have that choice. When we speak of eudaimonia,
the ultimate achievement of human life, we have to take both lives into account. The
characterization of the practical life as the second best life in the Aristotelian
scheme means only that the theoretical life would be fine if we were gods; but we
are not. We remain embedded in the social structures and the normative perspectives
in which we were reared and must recognize that we are part of a development that
always proceeds on the basis of some preshaped view. Ours is a fundamentally and
inescapably hermeneutical situation with which we have to come to terms via a
mediation of the practical problems of politics and society with the theoretical

FORTIN More than sixteen years have elapsed since the publication of your
discussion of Strauss in the second edition of Truth and Method (1965). You met
Strauss a number of times between 1965 and 1973, the year of his death. Do you still
stand by what you said then?

GADAMER Yes, and I hope he would agree. He was very modest and, as I mentioned
earlier, he did not like to discuss his disagreements with me. I have always
regretted that the dialogue was not pursued. I had made a new overture and he knew
that a further discussion, though perhaps not a definitive one, was possible.

FORTIN Are there any other survivors from the period of the early 1920s?

GADAMER Helmut Kuhn. He was in Berlin then and now lives in Munich. He was a
Protestant of Jewish extraction and had a strong religious bent. As is the case with
so many other religious intellectuals, the experiences of the Third Reich prompted
him to convert to Catholicism. He found a new home in the Catholic Church and became
extremely conservative.

FORTIN Litt, in the book to which you refer in Truth and Method (p. 490), describes
the opposition to history as being very dogmatic. Would you not agree that the
defense of history can be equally dogmatic?

GADAMER Oh, certainly. Strauss makes that point in his letter to Kuhn. 11

FORTIN It was most kind of you to give us so much of your time on this, the last day
of your stay in this country at least for this year. We are all very grateful to you.

1.See Gadamer's account of this and related incidents in his Philosophische
Lehrjahre (Frankfurt am Main, 1977), 50-51.
2.Cf. L. Strauss and H. G. Gadamer, "Correspondence Concerning Wahrheit and
Methode," The Independent Journal of Philosophy 2 (1978), 5-12.
3.The paper was never published but an application of its results is to be found
in "Der aristotelische Protreptikos and die entwicklungsgeschichtliche Betrachtung
der aristotelischen Ethik," Hermes 63 (1927), 138-64.
4.See Gadamer's review of Rose's book in Gnomon (1940), 431-36.
5.C. Hildebrandt, Platon: Der Kampf des Geistes um die Mach ( (Berlin, 1933).
6.See, for example, M. Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics. R. Manheim
transl. (Garden City, 1960, 33 and 37.
7.The lecture, delivered in 1929, was never published.
8.Cf. Plato, Republic, 351c.
9.See the interview with Heidegger published in the May 31, 1976, issue of Der
Spiegel, shortly after Heidegger's death. An English translation of the interview
appears in Philosophy Today 20:4 (Winter, 1976), 267-84.
10.H. G. Gadamer, "The Religious Dimension in Heidegger," in L. Rouner and A,
Olson, eds., Transcendence and the Sacred (Notre Dame, 1981), 193-207. Cf. "Sein,
Geist, Gott," in Gadamer, Kleine Schriften IV (Tubingen, 1977), 74-85.
11.Cf. L.Strauss, Letter to Helmut Kuhn, The Independent Journal of Philosophy
2 (1978), 23-26.

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