“On Gadamer’s account, a genuine conversation is one in which each partner to the conversation is concerned entirely with the subject-matter (die Sache) and with arriving at the truth with regard to it. In the first instance, this presupposes what Gadamer refers to as the docta ignorantia. Genuine conversation is based upon a recognition of our own fallibility, on a recognition that we are finite and historical creatures and thus we do not have absolute knowledge in Hegel’s sense. The knowledge we do have is akin to that of Socrates: a knowledge that we do not know and hence an openness to the possible truth of other views. In the second instance, then, each participant in a genuine conversation must be concerned with discovering the real strength of every other participant’s position. The participants cannot try simply to out-argue or outwit each other; neither can they try to reduce the views of others to the conditions of their genesis. At issue is not the intention behind a person’s saying what the person says but its possible truth. Each participant must thus be taken seriously as an equal dialogue partner, as someone who despite heritage, quirks of expression or the like is equally capable of illuminating the subject-matter. As Gadamer writes:
Thus, it is part of any genuine conversation that one submits to the other, allows his viewpoint really to count and gets inside of the other far enough to understand not him, to be sure, as this individuality but rather what he says. That which has to be grasped is the substantive validity of his opinion so that we can be united with one another on the subject-matter.
Gadamer’s reference to a unity on the subject-matter here is important. The unity with which he is concerned is not the result either of one partner’s imposing his or her views on another or of one partner’s simple acquiescence to the views of another. Rather, if individuals or groups come sincerely to a shared understanding of a subject-matter, the understanding they share is not the original property of one or the other but represents a new understanding of the subject-matter at issues. Gadamer’s model here is that of a Socratic dialogue in which the position to which Socrates and his interlocutors come at the end represents a significant advance over the position each maintained at the beginning. Each begins with certain views and assumptions but in confronting opposing views and assumptions has to reconsider and develop his or her own. The process, then, is one of integration and appropriation. This does not mean either that the participants give up their positions or that they use those of others imply to buttress their own. Rather it means that each participant takes account of the other opinions, attempts to show what is wrong and right with them as well as with his or her own position and thereby formulates, in concert with the others, a view that each recognizes to be closer to the truth than any of the original positions. As Gadamer writes:
Coming to an understanding in conversation presupposes that the partners are ready for it and that they try to allow for the validity of what is alien and contrary to themselves. If this happens on a reciprocal basis and each of the partners, while holding to his own ground simultaneously weighs the counter-arguments, they can ultimately achieve a common language and a common judgment in an imperceptible and non-arbitrary transfer of viewpoints. (We call this an exchange of opinions).
And even more forcefully:
What steps out in its truth is the Logos, which is neither mine nor yours and which therefore so far supersedes the subjective opinions of the discussion partners that even the leader of the discussion always remains the ignorant one.
The successful conclusion of a dialogue thus reflects a shared understanding and one that, moreover, reflects a transformation of the initial positions of all discussion partners. Gadamer argues that the same kind of shared understanding and transformation also marks the successful conclusion of the hermeneutic dialogue with aspects of one’s own or another tradition” (Warnke 1987:100-101).
1987 Gadamer: Hermeneutics, Tradition and Reason. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Citation Style AAA