College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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Hans-Georg Gadamer, philosophical hermeneutics, Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics, Martin Heidegger


The present study is an attempt to examine the relationship between Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics―focusing on his magnum opus, Truth and Method (1960)―and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Though he patiently waits until two thirds of the book to explicitly make such a rapprochement, Gadamer unambiguously claims Aristotle's Ethics to provide no less than a “kind of model of the problems of hermeneutics”―a proximity which Gadamer locates specifically in the question of application (Anwendung) which, according to him, finds its foremost hermeneutic expression with Aristotle. Because Gadamer also claims to find in legal hermeneutics an exemplary instance of the question of application, we will here argue that the seminal, yet perhaps underestimated, Aristotelian notion of epieikeia (equity)―itself articulated in Book V of the Nicomachean Ethics―provides a closest response to Gadamer's intimation of a “kind of model of the problems of hermeneutics.” As this justice which is higher than justice itself, and which yet at the same time constitutes its foremost accomplishment, epieikeia embodies a kind of judgment that itself might be described, just as the hermeneutic phenomenon, as being “not a question of method at all,” as it takes place, in every case, in the midst of unforeseeable situations and circumstances. This puzzling “absence of method” will thus compel us, along the way, to return time and again to a trope that is absolutely central to the Nicomachean Ethics: that of the mesotes―of the elusive “mean” that is nowhere clearly captured by Aristotle and which yet remains absolutely critical to the ethical project as a whole.

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