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Human Understanding of Reality Essay

The nature of language is one of the most mysterious questions
that exists for man to ponder on.
Gadamer

The human understanding of reality is intimately connected with the notion “language.” Language serves as the main source of cognition. Different linguists have investigated connections between the process of understanding and language itself for many years, philosophers, and other scientists. For example, Bickerton (Bickerton, 1981), concluded that “humans are very much at the mercy of language concerning what constitutes “social reality”(Gadamer, 1976). Allen (Allen, 1995) noticed the modern tendency to simplification of language because of diminution of infections that inevitably causes simplification of human understanding and show the higher level of social development. Whorf (Whorf, 1956), another prominent linguist, researched the problem of language and finally concluded that language defines the person’s way of life including all forms of human mental activity. The use of a definite language means the limitations of particular laws and peculiarities of this language. All in all, language is just a form and realization of this form depends on every person.

So, the person can choose either to improve or to debase the world with the help of language.

“Human speech conceals far more than it confides; it blurs much more than it defines; it distances more than it connects,” is Covington’s opinion (Covington, 1994)

Gadamer in his book “Philosophical Hermeneutics” presents his theory about human understanding of reality and the role language plays in this process. Hermeneutics is the science based on the practice of understanding and interpreting of written texts. The central notion of his theory is “hermeneutic circle.” Gadamer insists that understanding of the meaning of one particular word or phrase is practically impossible without context. The meaning must be taken into account only about the whole text. The hermeneutic science serves as proof that solving all social and cultural problems is interpreting the interpretations of all others. “The whole should be understood from the part, and the part should be understood out of the whole” – this is the main principle of Gadamer’s theory. (Gadamer, 1976). During his investigation, he noticed that the meaning changes according to the context, style and emotional connotation and unfolding of the text. The whole changes with its parts and at the same time individual test parts change their meaning because of the context. Meaning in language broadens its borders because of this principle.

“Hermeneutical circle” sometimes, by mistake, is compared with the scientific method. On the contrary, the hermeneutical circle doesn’t require fixed notions. Language is not physics, and so strict accuracy is not suitable for it. The meaning of the word is elastic enough and supposes the possibility of changing. According to this factor, the understanding of reality is not stable because of language and changes in the flow of time and a change of meaning. There is no “zero understanding” because every understanding moves in outlines and has temporal character. It doesn’t mean that there is no understanding at all. “the possibility of changes in understanding doesn’t mean value neutrality, but the awareness of the limits of our preconceptions” (Gadamer, 1976). The language tradition explains preconceptions that appear in the process of human understanding of the reality and as a result the mentality of people. We interpret the reality with the help of our mind and our mind operates with language concepts. So, we perceive the reality through the language because it influences our mental processes and by language as the main mean of communication.

Gadamer in his work explains the principle question-and-answer. Using this method during the conversation, we try to explain the meaning in different ways and so broaden its possibilities.

Conversations, where we use different means of language, are the best way of understanding the reality. “Conversations are more than mere arguments; they are also the forming of concepts accomplished through working out a common meaning” (Gadamer, 1976). In the process of dialogue in language, the participants of this dialogue share the production of meaning. Finding new ways of interpreting the meaning means to the presence of language and so to follow the principles of hermeneutics.

“For Gadamer, we find that language is a medium, one where substantive understanding and agreement can take place between two people, as seen in the phenomenon of conversation” (Gadamer, 1976).

According to Gadamer’s theory, both language and history play the most important roles in the process of human understanding of the reality. Historical and linguistic natures of human experience are interrelated. History mustn’t be examined as a temporal category of language. “Language is intimately related to the reality presenting itself through language” (Dadamer, 1976). The dependence of human knowledge on language is the main point of his works, and he insists that thinking is a linguistic process by its nature because our mental activity is expressed through words, which are the linguistic units.

Gadamer supposes the university of language and reason. Thus he proclaims his position against the principles of relativism. Relativism claims against the hermeneutic theory based on the historicity of understanding. In his theory, Gadamer gives some arguments against relativism and so proves his theory.

Gadamer proposes the way to solve the problem of relativism, which appears when human sciences deal with historicism. The clue to the solution lies in the principle of the historicity of human experience and life. The historicity of understanding “is the non-relative transcendental foundation of his philosophical hermeneutics”(Gadamer, 1986).

As we can see, all main points of Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics are aimed against relativism. His theory proclaims the dependence of human understanding of reality on history and language. Language is the primary mean that accomplishes the communicative act. Through language human beings perceive the reality and it’s vital to understand the meaning of the parts only in the whole context, and the understanding of the whole is possible only if the general meaning of parts is obvious.

So, the understanding is a mutual process and is possible only with the help of language means.

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