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The Search for Authentic Understanding and the Birth of Radical Hermeneutics

Tran Van Doan


This paper argues that it is the human search for authentic understanding that gives birth to radical hermeneutics, and not the reverse. Radical hermeneutics in the “contemporary” sense begins with Martin Heidegger’s critical reinterpretation of Immanuel Kant’s answer to the question of “What is the man?” (Was ist der Mensch?), and continues with his reflection on Being as the foundation of hermeneutics. Hans-Georg Gadamer has developed Heidegger’s thesis into what he termed philosophical hermeneutics, while Jacques Derrida seized Heidegger’s Kehre as the momentum to launch a typically Nietzschean interpretation, that is, to “return” to understanding in its genetic stage. Despite their difference, Gadamer and Derrida believed that authentic understanding is possible only if it is motivated by a creative force that remains loyal to humanness: identity in difference and difference in identity.

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