Philosophy

Research Article

Prejudice, Reason and Force

Brice R. Wachterhausera1

a1 Saint Joseph's University

Perhaps no other aspect of Hans-Georg Gadamer's Wahrheit und Methode has generated more controversy and caustic criticism than his attempt to defend the role of ‘prejudice’ (Vorurteil) in human understanding. Gadamer's goal in challenging what he calls ‘the Enlightenment's prejudice against prejudice’ is not to defend irresponsible, idiosyncratic, parochial or otherwise self-willed understanding in the human sciences, but to argue that all human cognition is ‘finite’ and ‘limited’ in the sense that it always involves, to borrow Polanyi's phrase, a ‘tacit dimension’ of implicit judgments, concerns, or commitments which shape definitively our grasp of the subject matter in ways we cannot anticipate or control. This implies a ‘finite’ or ‘limited’ view of human understanding in at least two ways. First, Gadamer seems to use the word ‘finite’ in conscious opposition to Hegel's notion of an ‘infinite’ intellect. For Hegel the ‘infinite’ was the ‘unconditioned’ and ‘self-determining’. An ‘infinite’ intellect would be its own master, an autonomous, spontaneous source of all its essential activities and contents.