• time;
  • distance;
  • understanding;
  • intention;
  • Gadamer;
  • Collingwood;
  • Dilthey;
  • Ricœur


In this paper, we begin by suggesting an intuitive model of time embodying a notion of temporal distance that we claim is at work in Gadamer's hermeneutics, while it is rejected in Collingwood's theory of interpretation. To show this, after a brief review of the influence of Collingwood on Gadamer and of their disagreement over the possibility of recovering an author's intention, we examine in turn their answers to the problem of transposition, upon which the philosophy of Dilthey supposedly foundered. We show that Gadamer embraced the idea of temporal distance in his solution, which consisted in claiming that the distance between an author from the past and us is filled in by tradition, which opens access to the text for us, while Collingwood considered explanations of the actions of historical agents, and by extension understanding of a text, in intentional or rational terms. Furthermore, he thought that such explanations are not causal, and that the thoughts involved in them do not stand within the flow of physical time, which is involved in any notion of temporal distance. This is why Collingwood felt entitled to anti-relativistic conclusions about the recovery of authorial intentions, conclusions that prompted Gadamer to claim that “the dimension of hermeneutical mediation which is passed through in every act of understanding” escaped him. We then discuss the underlying notions of time at work in both Gadamer and Collingwood, showing that Ricœur had a better appreciation of the issue, since he saw that Collingwood's moves parallel, up to a point, Heidegger's critique of “vulgar time,” albeit with an entirely different result. We also point to the importance in Collingwood's thinking of his notion of “incapsulation.”