HANS-GEORG GADAMER, one of the most important and influential European philosophers of the twentieth century, died on March 13 at the age of 102. The author of dozens of books and articles, he was the principal founder of hermeneutics, an approach to textual interpretation now widely practiced at American universities. His magnum opus, “Truth and Method,” first published in Germany in 1960, propelled him to international fame with its translation into English in 1975.
Born in 1900, only a generation or two removed from figures as towering as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Dilthey, Gadamer was the last living link with the vanished world of high German civilization–the civilization of Kant, Goethe, and Beethoven, the civilization swept away by two world wars in a conflagration not unrelated to its own darker philosophical currents. Living through the disaster of the Third Reich, Gadamer sought consistently to rescue German philosophy from the apocalyptic and millenarian extremism that had led his mentor, Martin Heidegger, to place his prestige as Germany’s leading philosopher at the service of a tyrant as he extolled “the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism.”