The Inner Word in Gadamer’s Hermeneutics

John Arthos

This intellectual history and textual analysis of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s famous and obscure theme of the verbum interius, or “inner word,” serves as an indispensable guide to and reference for hermeneutic theory. John Arthos here gives a full exposition and interpretation of the medieval doctrine of the inner word, long one of the most challenging ideas in Gadamer’s Truth and Method. The scholastic idea of a word that is thought but not yet spoken served Augustine as an analogy for the procession of the Trinity, served Aquinas as the medium between divine ideas and human expression, and serves Gadamer as an expression of the embodied nature of human language. Arthos offers a history of the idea of the inner word in ancient and medieval thought, its place in German philosophy, and its significance for probing the deepest implications of hermeneutic understanding.

Arthos also provides a close reading of Gadamer’s exegesis of the source texts of the doctrine of the inner word. He cross-references Gadamer’s analyses with the original texts and draws out their Heideggerian and Hegelian overtones. Through this close reading, Arthos deepens our understanding of the radical nature of Gadamer’s thought, which not only calls upon the authority of tradition but also develops some of the profoundest insights of classical and Judaeo-Christian teaching about language.

John Arthos is associate professor of communication at Denison University.

“Arthos’s strength lies for me in his careful reading of the sources. He effectively commands the literature on the subject. It shows in a sophisticated way what the legacy of the Trinitarian theology for philosophical hermeneutics is. The very complex task of illuminating the phenomenon of the verbum interius and indicating its centrality for philosophical hermeneutics is accomplished by John Arthos with great sensitivity to the subject matter.” —Andrzej Wiercinski, The International Institute for Hermeneutics

“Gadamer suggests that the Christian idea of incarnation is a key to his hermeneutics, but does not explain his position in a detailed or systematic manner. Arthos brings his considerable knowledge of hermeneutics and rhetoric to bear on Gadamer’s insight, recounting the rich intellectual history to which Gadamer gestures, and providing an extended and detailed exegesis of this pivotal point in the Third Part of Truth and Method. Gadamer’s account of linguisticality, Arthos explains, can best be understood through his use of a complex metaphor—the ‘inner word.’ Arthos matches his erudition with clear and clean prose, and his account exemplifies, rather than just describes, Gadamer’s hermeneutical philosophy. Any scholar interested in Gadamer’s philosophy should have this book on his or her shelf.” —Francis J. Mootz III, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, William S. Boyd School of Law

“Consummately researched, lucidly written, and persuasively argued throughout, The Inner Word succeeds brilliantly in bringing to light this neglected but pivotal matter in Gadamer’s work. Arthos is learned in the best ‘humanist’ way, for he succeeds in creating something new of his own that will speak eloquently to all of us.” —Walter Jost, University of Virginia


“John Arthos’s . . . book . . . will be a model for future scholarship on Gadamer’s intellectual inheritance. . . . Drawing widely from Gadamer’s writings while focusing on one crucial move in Gadamer’s argument, it provides both a systemic interpretation of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics and an informative overview of those views—ancient, medieval and modern—that helped shape crucial aspects of Gadamer’s thought.” — Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“Arthos’s book is arguably the definitive statement on how to read Gadamer’s Trinitarian claim . . . an indispensable resource to practical rhetorical critics as well as to theorists in understanding what is at issue in our assumptions about language, agency, and meaning.” — Rhetoric and Public Affairs

“While offering a close reading of Gadamer’s position on the inner word, the author’s book stands as a valid contribution to the philosophy and theology of ‘Logos,’ one that leads the reader to a more profound understanding of the nature of language and the linguistic self.” — Catholic Library World

“. . . Arthos’s book provides a rich resource in delving into both the history of the verbum and its hermeneutic appropriation by Gadamer. This work, then, is not only an essential read for Gadamerian scholars but also a valuable source for those interested in engaging the masters of medieval thought with the hermeneutic turn.” — International Philosophical Quarterly

“Arthos explicates and emphasizes the contribution Gadamer made in Truth and Method to hermeneutics and the study of human communication. The book’s most significant contribution, however, is its historical focus.” — Journal of Communication and Religion

“Arthos justly celebrates the inherent humanism of Gadamer’s hermeneutics and has aided our understanding of Gadamer with his thorough elucidation of a very difficult passage in Truth and Method.” —_Monatshefte_

“[The Inner Word in Gadamer’s Hermeneutics] is a 360 page magisterial study of the roughly ten pages of the ‘Language and Verbum’ section in Truth and Method, in which Gadamer treats of the topic of the inner word . . . Methodically researced and engagingly written, [the book], however, is no dry academic tome. For Arthos’s purpose is not only to exegete these pages but to inquire ‘into the paradigmatic significance of a hermeneutic logos for our culture.’ . . . Indeed, he succeeds not only in his inquiry but also in demonstrating, i.e., producing, the very workings of a culturally relevant hermeneutics.” — The Heythrop Journal