Gadamer, “inheemse gemeenskappe” en historistiese tekste


  • Andries Raath University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Larisse Prinsen University of the Free State, South Africa


Gadamer, Hermeneutics, Indigenous community, Indigenous knowledge systems, Legal discourses, Hermeneutiek, Inheemse gemeenskap, Inheemse kennisstelsels, Regsdiskoerse


Hans-Georg Gadamer se filosofiese hermeneutiek het debatte oor ? wye spektrum van kwessies met betrekking tot die interpretasie van wetstekste gestimuleer. Gadamer onderskryf nie die tradisionele benadering ingevolge waarvan interpretasie gebaseer word op die aanvaarding van die onveranderlike objektiewe betekenis van tekste nie. Daarom, vir Gadamer, is die outeursbedoeling nie objektief vasstelbaar nie. By bepaling van die outeur se bedoeling, word die interpreteerder beïnvloed deur sy/haar eie vooronderstellings en bygevolg kan die horison van die outeur nie getrou deur die interpreteerder gerekonstrueer word nie. Veranderde omstandighede het tot gevolg dat die betekenis van tekste, toegepas op nuwe omstandighede, ook verander. In hierdie artikel word die historistiese grondslae van Gadamer se hermeneutiese metode en die konvergensie daarvan met historistiese wetstekste ondersoek. Vir dié doel word moontlike interpretasies van die term “inheemse gemeenskap” in die Wetsontwerp op Inheemse Kennisstelsels aan die hand van fiktiewe futuristiese feitekonstruksies oorweeg, die toepaslikheid van Gadamer se hermeneutiek bepaal en die vraag  ondersoek tot welke mate Gadamer se hermeneutiese metode ruimte laat vir korrektiewe interpretasies van gebrekkige wetstekste.

Gadamer, “indigenous communities” and historicist texts
Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics stimulated debates on a wide range of issues related to the interpretation of texts. Gadamer does not accept the traditional view that interpretation is based on the possibility of unchanging objective meaning of texts. Therefore, authorial intent is not objectively determinable. In the process of finding the author’s intent, the interpreter’s efforts are influenced by his/her own pre-understandings and horizon, and the horizon of the author cannot be faithfully recreated by the interpreter. As conditions change, the meaning of texts, applied to new circumstances, change as well. The author also has the complete horizon (or range) of vision when the text is written – this forms part of the dialogue between the interpreter and the text. Gadamer argues that the interpreter’s horizon is dominated by traditions; because interpreters’ hermeneutic efforts are affected by history, the ways in which the text has previously been understood conditions their understanding.

Gadamer responds to accusations of subjectivism by invoking the notion of the “hermeneutical circle”: just as the horizon of a text changes over time, so too the interpreter’s viewpoint (horizon) is transformed in the textual encounter. Upon the interpreter’s first approach to the text, his/ her pre-understandings are projected into it. As the interpreter learns more about the text, his/her initial projections are revised to conform with the integrity of the text as it unfolds. The interpreter’s dialogue with the text seeks to establish a common ground that will reveal the sense of the individual parts of the text and integrate them into a coherent whole. Gadamer, therefore, assumes that the text exercises a constraining influence on interpreter’s hermeneutic activities. In this article Gadamer’s historicist assumptions are considered, and the applications of his hermeneutics to legal texts “contaminated” by historicist assumptions, are questioned. Historicist prejudices are strengthened by legal texts based on similar assumptions, as a result of which William J. Eskridge’s critique is supported that Gadamer’s hermeneutical theory is unable to transcend its own limitations and/or make the required corrections for accomplishing more nuanced interpretations and applications of the legal texts involved.

The applications of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics to historicist legal texts are illustrated with reference to provisions in the text of the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill and the possible interpretations of the concept “indigenous knowledge” in the Bill. The Bill defines “indigenous community” as being any recognisable community of people developing from or historically settled in, a geographic area located within the borders of the Republic characterised by social, cultural and economic conditions, which distinguish themselves and are recognised by other groups as a distinct collective. The interpretation and application of the concept “indigenous community” by judges applying Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics in fictitious futuristic scenarios are considered and these diverse, and even opposing, hermeneutical interpretations of “community” in the fictitious examples, titled UTOPIA 1-3, are all based on legitimate interpretations of Gadamerian hermeneutical theory. It is concluded that Eskridge’s criticism of Gadamer’s historistic approach as deferring too much on “biased and polluted tradition”, thereby preventing Gadamer from transcending the limitations of his historicist hermeneutical stance, is valid. It is also valid in the sense that a Gadamerian hermeneutical approach strengthens the historicist assumptions inherent to the Bill, and leaves little scope for judges to apply the provisions relating to the concept of “indigenous community” in a normative fashion – an approach not accommodative of the material legal principles impacting upon the relevant hermeneutical issues.



How to Cite

Raath, A., & Prinsen, L. (2019). Gadamer, “inheemse gemeenskappe” en historistiese tekste. Tydskrif Vir Christelike Wetenskap | Journal for Christian Scholarship, 54(4), 139-165. Retrieved from



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