Date of Award

Winter 1988

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Walter Buckley


This study is a social-theoretical analysis of Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics. Special attention is paid to Gadamer's analysis of the nature of interpretation, which is based in part on Martin Heidegger's concept of the fore-structure of understanding. This Heideggerian concept, which implies that interpretation cannot proceed without a prior understanding of its object, reappears in Gadamer's work in his notion of the prejudiced condition of interpretation. According to Gadamer, interpretation is prejudiced because it involves the application of preconscious linguistical concepts the truth status of which is assumed during their moment of application. Gadamer rejects a strictly pejorative view of prejudices, however, viewing them as necessary preliminary judgments of meaning that may be true or false. For Gadamer, the task we all face is to experience prejudices consciously by bringing into discourse their tacit semantical content. This process is defined by Gadamer as the experience of hermeneutical reflection, which yields an "effective-historical consciousness," a consciousness that is aware of the anterior and meaning-constitutive effect of one's existence within a linguistic tradition. It is argued that Anthony Giddens and Jurgen Habermas fail to understand the meaning of Gadamer's notion of the universality of hermeneutics and consequently fail to grasp the full significance of his hermeneutics for sociology. In the case of Giddens, the implications of Gadamer's hermeneutics are limited to the theoretical realm; in Habermas, the implications are taken to be strictly methodological. It is argued that the sociological significance of Gadamer is topical, as well as theoretical and methodological. This means that Gadamer's hermeneutics may be used to introduce new topics and research questions within sociology. It is proposed that sociologists begin studying the distribution of prejudices across groups and the stratification and differentiation of situational opportunities conductive to hermeneutical reflection. The interpretive-sociological contributions of Max Weber, Alfred Schutz and G. H. Mead are also discussed and contrasted with Gadamer's analysis of the prejudiced nature of interpretation.