Learning from Misunderstanding: The Application of Hermeneutics in the University



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In this thesis I examine the rectoral address of both Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer to articulate their vision of education as well as the role the university plays in this vision. As a student of Heidegger, Gadamer departs from a similar conceptual ground. However, Gadamer parts way with Heidegger when he emphasizes the role of prejudices in understanding. This subtle distinction equips Gadamer?s hermeneutical project to encounter the role of the American University flexibly. I argue that by viewing both of these addresses alongside their historical context we not only gain a nuanced understanding of Gadamer?s departure from Heidegger but we also gain an important turn in the hermeneutical project. Because Gadamer emphasizes prejudices as a condition of understanding, his hermeneutical project necessitates an inquiry into the historical circumstances that gave rise to the questions he sought to address. His emphasis on the historicity of understanding effectively allows us to test which aspects of the hermeneutical project are viable for the American university. I argue that while many aspects of Gadamer?s philosophy of education are broadly aligned with many American institutional goals, he does not address the issue of race in higher education. I conclude by arguing that if the hermeneutic project is to move beyond Gadamer?s historical circumstances, and apply viably to any American context, then it must deal with the problems of racism as an everyday occurrence.