A Gadamerian Perspective on Teaching the Humanities: Students, Teachers, and the Unmethodical Questioning of Truth

By Peter Elias Sotiriou.

Published by The International Journal of Humanities Education

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Post-structural theory has markedly altered the way scholars read texts. Central to post-structural thinking are the premises that truth and the author are absent from these texts. Though scholars can argue cogently for these positions, students frequently find these premises counter-intuitive, often silencing their responses to texts. Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, a strand of post-structural theory, can productively be applied to the classroom. Philosophical hermeneutics also questions notions of transcendent truth and foregrounds dialogue over authorial intent. Key to encouraging fertile student responses to humanities texts are the following Gadamerian terms treated in Truth and Method and in Gadamer's later works: 1) dialogue, 2) prejudice, 3) phronesis, 4) recognition, and 5) truth. For Gadamer, author and reader are subsumed in the play of dialogue. This dialogue elicits statements and counterstatements, questions and counter-questions where both teacher and student are recognized as they respond to the text. These texts are written within the discipline of the human sciences (phronesis) where human questions, not predetermined methods, are examined. What emerges are truths or enabling prejudices, none of which are transcendent, but nonetheless are experienced as true. Such a classroom scene is both liberating and challenging both for the student and the teacher.

Keywords: Gadamer, Hermeneutics, Post-structural

The International Journal of Humanities Education, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp.9-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 269.348KB).

Dr. Peter Elias Sotiriou

Professor of English, English / ESL Department, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles, California, USA

Los Angeles City College, California; Professor of English. I completed my PhD in English (rhetoric, linguistics, and literature) at USC in 1991; I have written articles and presented several papers on Gadamer and pedagogy; last year I published a book-length study of Gadamer and pedagogy The Pedagogical Implications of Gadamer's Hermeneutics (Mellen, 2012).