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As Gadamer, the "dean" of European philosophy, turns 100 this year, it behooves philosophers and reflective people in general to ponder the relation between philosophy and "good life," and more broadly between philosophy and natural health. As it happens, Gadamer himself has extensively reflected on this issue, especially in a book titled The Enigma of Health. The essay first recapitulates some of the main arguments of Gadamer's text, focusing on the difference between the growing scientific arsenal of medical intervention (combatting illness) and the unforced and un-constructed maintenance of human health through attentiveness to "nature's way." The middle section inserts the text into the context of Gadamer's larger opus, exploring particularly the connection between health and such key Gadamerian concerns as "appropriateness," "natural rightness," and "mimesis." The conclusion traces affinities between Gadamer and the teachings of Heidegger and Adorno, while also probing the political implications of his text for the maintenance of human freedom in the face of expertocracy and the reduction of politics to ideological blueprints.
In many ways, modernity in the West constitutes a conspiracy against nature in favor of artifact or deliberate construction. In virtually all domains of human endeavor--from philosophy and science to industry and forms of modern art--we find a celebration of construction or production coupled with a near-contempt for "nature's ways." Even intellectual tendencies critical of aspects of Western modernity readily pay homage to the modern ethos by employing self-chosen labels like "constructivism," "reconstruction," and "deconstruction." No doubt, this modern ethos also carries ennobling features: ultimately, the zeal for construction testifies to human creativity and inventiveness, to the strong Promethean streak operative in humankind. Yet, relentlessly pursued, Prometheanism carries a heavy price: that of potential self-destruction. Although deliberately seeking to expand the range of human possibilities (perhaps infinitely), construction runs headlong into the vortex of finitude, thus endangering the very so urce of possibilities (or its own "condition of possibility"). In large measure, this danger has to do with modernity's liaison with mastery and forceful, even violent intervention: virtually all forms of modern construction forcefully disrupt or redirect natural processes whose regenerative powers are hardly unlimited. The destructive potential of construction is vividly evident in the arsenal of nuclear weapons threatening global survival; it is also manifest in the steadily intensifying ecological crisis which erodes the moorings of human habitation (oikos) on earth.
The dilemmas of construction are also reflected in the field of human illness and health, that is, in the domain of medical treatment and its limits. Here again, Prometheanism has yielded impressive triumphs. Undeniably, the advances of medical science have been able to combat and even eradicate major illnesses which had plagued humankind in the past; yet, its competence in attacking illness does not equally extend to fostering and sustaining human health and natural well-being. Although remarkably efficient in artificially prolonging the duration of life, medicine is not similarly able to produce natural longevity and with it the benefit of seasoning accruing to a richly textured old age. Among contemporary philosophers, no one has reflected more intensively on questions of illness and health than HansGeorg Gadamer, the "dean" of Continental philosophy whose entire life's work steers a subtle course between hermeneutical questioning and listening, between artful construction and "letting-be" (or between nat ure and art). Gadamer's reflections are all the more significant as his own life exemplifies concretely the point of his theoretical teaching. Born in 1900 Gadamer has been a witness of the turbulent course of an entire century--all the while maintaining a steady path throughout these turbulent events. At century's end, surely much can be learned from his example about steadiness and about aging as a mode of continued seasoning. Gadamer's reflections on these topics are contained mainly in a book first published in German in 1993 and subsequently translated into English under the title The Enigma of Health (in 1996). In the following I shall first of all review the main arguments regarding illness and health presented by Gadamer in that book. Next, I shall correlate and compare these arguments with prominent themes found in some of his other writings. By way of conclusion, I shall broaden the focus by inserting Gadamer's insights into the larger context of contemporary philosophical discussions and global pol itical experiences.
Gadamer's The Enigma of Health carries the subtitle The Art of Healing in a Scientific Age. The subtitle is revealing as it points to one of the book's main concerns: the tension and even conflict between modern science, including medical science, and the practice of healing seen as the restoration and maintenance of health. From Gadamer's perspective--which he shares with such different thinkers as Heidegger and Habermas--modern science involves basically a process of distantiation from and objectification of the world geared toward the goal of human mastery or control over nature. As he writes, modern science denotes no longer "the totality of the knowledge of the world" which Greek philosophy had elaborated; rather, based on a unitary methodology as formulated by Descartes, modern science functions as a "tribunal of verification" before which nature's laws can be confirmed or refuted. Predicated on this methodology, modern science no longer blends with nature, but rather makes possible a "knowledge direct ed to the power of making, a knowing mastery of nature"--which is the essence of technology. As contrasted with the natural philosophy of antiquity, modern science in Gadamer's view is no longer concerned with nature seen as "a self-maintaining and self-restoring totality." Rather, wedded to strategic intervention and the Kantian motto of "forcing nature to yield its secrets," science bears the earmarks of "making and producing," and especially those of "projective construction." Modern science, we read,
understands itself precisely as a kind of knowledge that is guided by the idea of transforming nature into a human world, indeed almost of eliminating the natural dimension by means of rationally controlled projective "construction." As science this knowledge allows us to calculate and to control natural processes to such an extent that it finally becomes capable of replacing the natural by the artificial. 
As presented by Gadamer, modern science not only stands in opposition to classical or premodern forms of knowledge but also obscures or pushes aside the distinction between technical application of rules and ordinary life practice--or in Greek terms, the distinction between techne and praxis. For Gadamer as for the Greeks, practice is closely related not to "making" but to a person's being and sense of life. This relation, he writes, is reflected in the figurative German expression "Was machst du denn?"--which "does not ask, literally, what are you doing but, rather how are you?" As a student of Heidegger, Gadamer clearly perceives the connection between life practice and the phenomenological notions of "life-world" and "being-in-the-world" which are irreducible to objectification. Formulating the difference in terms of perspectives he notes that, alongside the scientific world view which treats the world "as an object to be dominated and as a mere field of resistance," there is another perspective irreducib le to it. While the former sees every object as "something to be broken down and mastered," the alternative view relies on the "idea of the life-world, introduced into the philosophy of this century by Husserl." Despite our deep impregnation by scientific method, the life-world remains an arena of practical involvement and engagement and the task which falls on all human beings is to "find our own way" in that world and to "learn to accept our real limits." Finding one's way in the life-world requires not so much the technical application of rules as the exercise and cultivation of practical judgment--a faculty which today is greatly endangered. While the capacity for scientific and technical rationality is celebrated and continuously refined, the "autonomous formation of judgment and of action" is correspondingly neglected. This neglect, for Gadamer, has its basis in the character of modern civilization, an aspect which can be …