Hans-Georg Gadamer

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Hans-Georg Gadamer (11 February 1900–March 13 2002) was a leading philosopher in the field of hermeneutics, the art of interpretation, which he wrote about in detail in his 1960 work Truth and Method (German: Wahrheit und Methode).


Gadamer came from a family of bourgeois German Protestants. His mother, Emma Karoline Johanna Gewiese (30 July 1869–24 May 1904) died when Hans-Georg was only four years old, having given birth to two other children: the older Willi who suffered from chronic epilepsy, and a younger girl called Ilse who suffered from diphteria, as well as miscarrying a boy[1]. His father, Johannes Gadamer (1 April 1867–15 April 1928), was a scientist by training, studying pharmacetical chemistry under Ernst Schmidt and publishing multiple papers on the topic. At home, he was rather authoritarian and disciplinary, and took an interest in both his son's religious upbringing and in pushing for him to get a scientific education. On his deathbed, he called for Martin Heidegger, then Hans-Georg's tutor, who reassured him that Hans-Georg was an excellent student and would do well. Johannes responded:

"Yes, but do you really believe that philosophy is enough of a vocation to occupy one's life?"[2]

Gadamer attended the University of Breslau in 1918, then moved back to Marburg in 1919, completing his doctorate in 1922. As well as Heidegger, Gadamer came into contact with Paul Natorp and Nicolai Hartmann and the philologist Paul Friedlander. His dissertation was on "Plato's dialectical ethics", and was submitted in 1928. In the same year, he found work at the University of Marburg. In 1923, he married Frida Kratz, and would later divorce her and marry Käte Lekebusch in 1950.

From 1934-35 he taught at Kiel, then moved back to Marburg, becoming a professor in 1937. In 1939, he became the director of the University of Leipzig's Philosophical Institute, where he stayed during the war. While Heidegger became an active member of the Nazi party and expressed admiration for Hitler's politics, Gadamer did not support, but did not oppose either, the regime. He became the Dean of Faculty in 1945, and Rector a year later. He held a position in Frankfurt in 1947, then in 1949 he moved to the University of Heidelberg, succeeding Karl Jaspers.

In 1960, he published Truth and Method, his most influential work, and retired in 1968. After this, he continued his philosophical work while travelling and lecturing at a variety of universities - Boston College being a regular place.

Gadamer has had a number of famous debates, including with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, the latter seeing Gadamer as being too conservative, and the conversation between the two was rather unproductive.

The University of Heidelberg honored Gadamer on his one hundredth birthday, and he died two years later on March 13, 2002. He left behind a huge collection of works, the bibliography of which spans thirteen volumes.


  1. Jean Grondin, Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography, p. 19-20
  2. Jean Grondin, Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography, p. 29