Author: Higgins, Paul
Date published: March 1, 2010
GADAMER, Hans-Georg. Interroger les Grecs: Études sur les Présocratiques, Platon et Aristote. Ed. F. Renaud, with C. Collobert; Trans. D. Ippeciel. Québec: Éditions Fides, 2006. 380 pp. Paper, $32.95- HansGeorg Gadamer is primarily known as the author of Wahrheit und Methode - arguably the most important text on hermeneutics produced in the 20th century - yet he repeatedly claimed that his most original work lay in his studies of ancient Greek philosophy. With Interroger les Grecs, a new translation into French of many of his key essays on this topic (drawn from volumes 5-7 of his Gesammelte Werke), non-German readers can more easily access this intriguing side of Gadamer. As the editors point out in their lengthy and helpful introduction, this book not only has value as an extended example of Gadamer's hermeneutic method, but should be of interest to scholars of ancient Greek philosophy more generally.
All of the essays collected in this volume exemplify Gadamer's careful and patient hermeneutic approach. He typically begins with a detailed analysis on the kind of text in question, giving priority to the question that constitutes the occasion for what is being said, and then proceeds to deconstruct modern (usually neo Kantian or historicist) misinterpretations. In the substance of each essay, Gadamer almost invariably emphases continuity and harmony among philosophers and philosophical themes: mythos and logos, logos and ethos, dialogue and ethics, Plato and Aristotle, ancients and moderns. The editors should also be commended for their scholarly apparatus - the introduction does a superb job of situating the essays in terms of Gadamer's corpus, the Notes du traducteur after each essay are uniformly helpful, key terms are left in German when there is any doubt as to their meaning, and the translator succeeds admirably in capturing the rhythm and feel of Gadamer's expansive German sentences.
Interroger les Grecs collects eleven texts which are divided into three thematic groups - the Presocratics, Plato, and Aristotle. The first essay, "Parmenide ou l'immanence de l'être," offers an extended meditation on the unity of being and knowing. Arguing that Parmenides articulated an ontological "depth" to appearances which Plato would later develop in his Sophist and Parmenides dialogues, Gadamer claims, somewhat provocatively, that Plato's "Good" ultimately signifies the immanence of being. Ln the second essay, "Études héraclitéennes," Gadamer carefully deconstructs ancient and modern misreadings of Heraclitus, finally emphasizing that the Ionian philosopher's key insight is the simultaneity (that is, not the alternation) of the one and the many, which would later be expanded upon in Plato's Sophist. The third essay, "Platon et les Présocratiques," argues that the cosmology of both Plato and the Presocratics is in fact a rational or philosophical mythology wherein the search for origins (as, for instance, in Hesiod's cosmogony) is rendered merely peripheral, and the focal point is rather the order that is exhibited in the world as presently constituted.
The essays on Platonic dialogues begin with "La piété du non-savoir socratique," where Gadamer emphasizes the continuity between Athenian civic religiosity and Socratic piety (the trial and death of Socrates notwithstanding). He argues that philosophy and poetry fulfill the same function for both - making effable the divine - and that the oft mentioned "ancient quarrel" between the poets and philosophers is merely one of different interpretations of the divine. In the fifth essay, "La pensée utopique de Platon," the degeneration of the Republic's ideal city is shown to derive ultimately from the inevitable errors that occur when philosopher-kings apply their calculations to the sensory world, thus illustrating the inherent limits of applying abstract thought to practical calculation - and also thereby refuting those readings of Plato which construe him as a precursor to fascism or totalitarianism. The sixth essay, "Amicus Plato magis arnica Veritas," provides the occasion for one of Gadamer's strongest arguments for a harmonious reading of Plato and Aristotle. For Gadamer, Aristotle does not oppose Plato's theory of ideas as such, but actually does justice to (and develops) its internal structure by introducing potency/act to substance.
"Aristote et la question socratique" posits that the strong identification of knowledge and virtue in Socrates and Plato is also found in Aristotle; through a careful reading of the Nicomachean Ethics, Gadamer illustrates that the intellectual and practical virtues constitute an inseparable unity. In the eighth essay, "Aristote et l'éthique impérative," Gadamer reflects on the richness of ethical reality in Aristotle with an account of the unity of ethos and logos in the Aristotelian texts, concluding (perhaps surprisingly) with a strong defense of Kantian teleology and moral philosophy as continuous with ancient philosophy. The ninth essay, "Amitié et connaissance de soi," revisits Gadamer's 1928 inaugural lecture at Marburg and contends that true friendship, for Aristotle, is a dialogical construction of a virtuous self which cannot be understood on the basis of a modern philosophy of reflection.
The tenth essay, "Le concept de nature et les sciences naturelles," traces the development of Greek science from its near-eastern origins to later developments in Plato and Aristotle, and concludes that modern natural science is in dire need of both the Aristotelian turn to the phenomena and the ancient Greek philosophical concept of nature. The last text in this volume is a fascinating interview with Gadamer in 1994, "Les Grecs, nos maîtres," in which he speaks of his Fichtean and neo-Kantian beginnings as well as his tutelage under Heidegger and subsequent turn to philology. He speaks powerfully of the need to recover the originary power of Greek philosophy for western thought - which serves as a fitting conclusion to a collection of essays that testifies to Gadamer's achievements toward this end.
If one were forced to find a flaw in this volume, it may be (as the editors point out) that there are many places where the texts in question cannot entirely support Gadamer's optimistic zeal for synthesis and unity among philosophical themes and figures. Also, while granting that his probing hermeneutic studies are unsystematic by design, one still occasionally wishes that an argument or line of thought were a bit easier to discern. These are, however, minor issues - the essays collected here are extremely good and provide a wide-ranging cross-section of Gadamer's mature philosophical studies of the Greeks, which he was perhaps correct in esteeming as the most original of his many contributions to philosophy. - Paul Higgins, The Catholic University of America.
Paul Higgins, The Catholic University of America.