Our Truth Is Defined by Our Community

Part 4: Living Positively

Critical Hermeneutics

Our tradition and history are essential components that influence and determine the way we understand. “[Tradition] is always something that is apart of us.”

(Bernstein 1983: 152).

We cannot escape our tradition and history. It is difficult to imagine ourselves separate from our history, background, culture and religion. These things are engrained in who we are as human beings that we often take them for granted. We may find it difficult to imagine another way of being, for what we know is based upon our own unique experiences. Through the use of language and conversation with the other and the reading of texts, we may, at times, catch a glimpse of what it must be like to think a different way, to imagine a different way of being. For philosophers, like Hans-Georg Gadamer (d. 2002), through the process of reading a text we will enter into a kind of play between that which we have read and ourselves. Through this process, the text has an effect upon us (Gadamer 1981).

Our tradition “speaks to us and makes us claim a truth,” it “enables us to go beyond our own historical horizon through a fusion of horizon,” through the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point. Based on its “sedimentation,” tradition has the power to “constantly determine what we are in the process of becoming.” (Gadamer 1977: 3). For Gadamer, there is a truth “that is revealed in the process of experience and emerges in the dialogical encounter with tradition.” My truth is different than that of another, it is something that is unique to each person and is formulated and emerged through the process of dialogue. The idea of truth is an essential part of understanding the role of tradition and history. Hermeneutics, Gadamer states, “seeks that experience of truth that transcends the sphere and control of the scientific method.”

The dimensions of understanding for each human being cannot simply be equated or summed up using a scientific formula; they are instead best developed through the interpretive approach. Gadamer states that truth is absolutely essential and is a necessary part of philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer 1977). Our truth is defined by our community, rather than being derived solely on the methodologies we so often find in the hard sciences.


Bernstein, Richard, 1983 Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia. Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 1994 Truth and Method, 2nd rev. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marchall, trans. Continuum Publishing Co: New York. 1981 Reason in Age of Science, Frederick G. Lawrence, trans. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts 1977 Philosophical Hermeneutics, David E. Linge, ed., trans. University of California Press: Berkeley, California.

Excerpts from:

Living Positively: Narratives of Forgiveness and Imagination among Women with HIV. Copyright © 2010 Hamaseh Kianfar, Ed. D.