Gadamer on Truth and Method: Implications for Measurement across the Sciences [Online]


The works of the German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), are recognized as being among the most important intellectual contributions of the 20th century. The continuing relevance of, for instance, his major work, Truth and Method, published in German in 1960, is indicated by its nearly 29,000 citations, over 6,000 of which have emerged since 2017. Gadamer thought and wrote extensively on Plato and Aristotle, and is a foremost interpreter of Husserl's phenomenology and of the hermeneutic consequences of Heidegger's focus on the question of being. The implications of Gadamer's ideas for qualitative methods in psychology and the social sciences have been extensively explored and debated. What his ideas mean for the natural sciences and for quantitative methods likely has, however, further reaching consequences for understanding method than is usually perceived, indeed, further even than was perceived by Gadamer himself. Heelan, for instance, was a physicist trained under Schrodinger who provides extensive and well-informed elaborations of Gadamer's perspectives in relation to the history and conduct of science. But Gadamer clarified mathematical, geometric, and measurement-related themes--as these emerge in Plato, in particular--in ways that remain unrecognized for their relevance to methodological problems across the sciences.

What does Gadamer mean, for instance, when he says, for Hegel, "True method was an action of the thing itself"? What further clues for method can be discerned in the assertion that "thinking means unfolding what consistently follows from the subject matter itself" (Gadamer, 1989, pp. 463-464)? Why is play, according to Gadamer, such an important clue to understanding method? In this context, why would a philosopher as steeped in qualitative issues of interpretation theory as Gadamer hold that "it is the human task to constantly be limiting the measureless with measure" (Gadamer, 1980, p. 155)? What kind of understanding of measurement methods follows from Gadamer's (1980, pp. 35, 149, 150) recognition of the facts that (a), "Characteristic of a proportion is that its mathematical value is independent of the given factors in it;" (b) that "The real problem in the logos lies in its being the unity of an opinion composed of factors or items which are distinct from the opinion itself;" and (c) that "the limitation of the Pythagorean explanation of number and world [is that] Pythagoreans take numbers and numerical relationships for existence itself and are unable to think of the noetic order of existence by itself"? Answers to these questions take on new dimensions when approached in the context of probabilistic models of measurement, especially when these are situated in the context of their relevance and applicability across the sciences.

William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. received his doctorate from the University of Chicago, where he was mentored by Benjamin D. Wright, completed three seminars with Paul Ricoeur, and was supported by a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship. Dr. Fisher is recognized for contributions to measurement theory and practice that span the full range from the philosophical to the applied in fields as diverse as special education, mindfulness practice, clinical chemistry, and survey research.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021 - 2:00pm
Online session
PDF icon Presentation slides2.44 MB