Gadamer and the Social Turn in Epistemology

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Table of contents



Part I: Gadamer's Hermeneutic Conception of Understanding

1. The Central Question of Hermeneutics: What Does It Mean to Understand?

2. The Limitation of Two Historical Models of Knowing: The Enlightenment and Romanticism

3. Interpretation, Truth, and Hermeneutic Realism

Part II: Gadamerian Hermeneutics and Social Epistemology

4. The Central Question of Social Epistemology: What Does It Mean to Recognize Epistemic Practices as Social Practices?

5. Feminist Contributions to Social Epistemology

6. Gadamer's Hermeneutic Conception of Understanding as Social Epistemology


Explores Gadamer's hermeneutic theory of understanding and puts this theory into conversation with several social epistemologies, including feminist epistemology.


While some take Gadamer's Truth and Method to be a departure from epistemological questions and concerns, author Carolyn Culbertson reads Gadamer's work as offering a valuable reflection on the nature of understanding—one that is deeply resonant with the recent social turn in epistemology. Like social epistemologists, Gadamer worries about the epistemic irresponsibility that we encourage when we treat an attitude of objectivity, wherein the inquirer lacks any awareness of their social and historical situation, as an epistemic ideal. Like social epistemologists too, Gadamer argues that understanding that one is socially and historically situated does not mean believing that one is fated to simply repeat traditional ideas without critique or modification—a concern frequently raised in response to critiques of Enlightenment epistemology. By developing such parallels, Gadamer and the Social Turn in Epistemology offers seasoned readers of Gadamer a new context in which to appreciate his discussion of understanding in Truth and Method and readers unfamiliar with Gadamer a productive point of access into his major work.

Carolyn Culbertson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University. She is the author of Words Underway: Continental Philosophy of Language.


"Culbertson offers not only a detailed and elegant reading of Truth and Method and relevant essays, she returns to Gadamer's work to show its importance to ongoing debates in social and feminist epistemologies. Gadamer and the Social Turn in Epistemology will be of interest to instructors and students both in philosophy and neighboring social sciences and humanities. It will also be of interest to philosophers interested in Gadamer and the hermeneutical tradition as well as researchers working on or with social and feminist epistemologies."—Tobias Keiling, The University of Warwick