Personal horizons
maybe limited and finite.

They can also be open,
cordial and generous.

Without absorbing them into ours,
nor losing ourselves in theirs.

we can embrace
and meet with others.

If we learn to share
the air we breathe.

One of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s realisations was that the level of consciousness we have been able to attain so far is analogous to a personal horizon. We find ourselves, as he put it, with a “range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point.”[1]

So, in order to have more than just a limited consciousness one needs to have a horizon. Without a horizon one is somewhere between a goldfish and a sty-bound pig. As Gadamer illustrated, “A person who has no horizon does not see far enough and hence over-values what is nearest to him.”[2] Having a horizon means we can see a wider picture and are not limited to purely considering what is in front of us.

We can also comprehend that there are sights beyond that horizon. Our own personal horizons may be “limited and finite,”[3] as the Gadamerian, Richard J. Bernstein observed, but hopefully they are also “essentially open.”[4] We must take seriously, to the point of imperative, how the other – that which is not self – is to be incorporated within the metaphor of our personal horizon. In order that we do not objectify the other, or their claim, we must avoid trying to assimilate them into our horizon as it stands. But, also, we should not attribute an alternative horizon to them into which we transplant ourselves whilst ignoring our own horizon. Instead of objectifying them, as in the former, or indeed objectifying ourselves, as in the latter, we need to recognise the fluidity of ourselves with the other and attempt to achieve what Gadamer termed a ‘fusion of horizons.’

For Gadamer, “one of the most essential experiences a human being can have is that another person comes to know him or her better.”[5]Isn’t that what we all want – to be understood? To have someone that listens properly to the wit and wisdom we have to bestow whilst also appreciating the depths of our torment and highs of our joyful responses to the world.

Gadamer realised that a genuine dialogue needs to be created in order for there to be a fusing, as opposed to a swamping, of horizons. One-way traffic really isn’t going to cut it in Gadamer’s world. This is because he deeply believed that, just as we are each finite up to any moment of time, we are also each capable of being shown more than we can see within our own personal horizon. Or, as he said to Carsten Dutt, “Through an encounter with the other we are lifted above the narrow confines of our own knowledge… because there is always something about which we are not correct and are not justified in maintaining.”[6] There is always another horizon to be shown or explore. How many times in our intellectual awakening and broadening, when chewing the fat with a close friend, colleague or family member, have we stumbled upon either a shared eureka moment or personal insight from one to the other. The process of openly fusing our horizons in a dialogue of trust and respect can yield dramatic shifts in our consciousness.

[1] Gadamer, H-G. Truth and Method, second edition. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Sheed and Ward, London, 2001, 302.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bernstein, Richard J. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1983. 143.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gadamer, H-G. Gadamer in Conversation: Reflections and Commentary. Edited and translated by Richard E. Palmer, Yale University Press, 2001, 49.

[6] Ibid.

Published by Dr Jim Walsh

CEO of Conway Hall Ethical Society and author of 'Ethics Starts With You'.

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