Gadamer's being.

Author:Maguire, John F.
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

In his informative essay on Heidelberg philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer ("Gadamer & the Light of the Word," January), Edward Tingley argues in favor of Martin Heidegger's ousiology, the ousiology that informs Gadamer's major work Truth and Method (1960). I would argue against this move.

The Greek term ousia is usually translated as "essence." What is meant by ousiology, then, is a discourse that essentializes Being. By way of illustration, Mr. Tingley gives us many ousiologemes from which to choose: "Being is speaking to us. And all Being will lead us home." Or: "Language has placed us in connection with Being, and in such a way that we can receive the guidance to live fully." Or: "Being is speaking to us--in effect, it hears our most intimate questions and holds out the answer." Or: "The more you know about Gadamer's sense of Being, the closer it brings you to your own God." Or: "Hermeneutics is entering into the presence of Being itself."

Identifying Being with essence, ousiology collapses the Mosaic distinction between uncreated Being (God) and created Being (creatures). Gadamer's teacher Heidegger had already denigrated the Mosaic distinction as "onto-theological" and therefore not properly philosophical. Gadamer follows suit, and in so doing obscures the "genuinely philosophical import" of the real distinction between existence and essence, the real distinction between God as the pure act of existence and his creatures as recipients--precisely as creatures--of the gift of existence.

As Jean Grondin, Gadamer's biographer, writes: "At most, he [Gadamer] professed what Plato called 'the divine,' though only in the neuter: this neuter, he thought, referred to no living being, as for Aristotle and later the Catholic Church, but signified that we all know that we have not made ourselves and our death is out of our hands. For that reason, Gadamer stated ironically, the Catholic Church could only appeal to Aristotle. Plato was too spiritual for it." In reply, I would suggest that Gadamer's attempt to ironize a purportedly sub-Platonic church signals a failure on his part to understand how a revised version of Plato's "doctrine of participation" plays into the Catholic synthesis. If God is Being itself; if God is the pure act of existence; if God's existence is his essence, then creatures as creatures can only be what we are: "partakers" of existence, not however as emanations of God but as recipients--in our very status as creatures--of the gift...

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