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Dilthey, Wilhelm

Dilthey, Wilhelm

The “Geisteswissenschaften”

Historiography

Relativism

WORKS BY DILTHEY

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), German philosopher, historian, literary critic, and biographer, was professor of philosophy at Basel in 1867, at Kiel from 1868 to 1870, at Breslau from 1871 to 1881, and at Berlin, where he succeeded Hermann Lotze in 1882. He had studied philosophy at Heidelberg under Kuno Fischer and at Berlin under Friedrich Trendelenburg; while at Berlin he had also been deeply influenced by such leading historians as August Bæckh, Jacob Grimm, and, above all, Leopold von Ranke. His chief interest as a philosopher was in the logic and methodology of the historical and social studies (Geisteswissenschaften). His conclusions are set forth in the Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (see Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 1) and in the unfinished “Entwürfe zur Kritik der historischen Vernunft” (ibid., vol. 7, pp. 189–291).

The “Geisteswissenschaften”

Dilthey agreed with Kant and the positivists in their rejection of metaphysics but differed from the positivists in that he did not accept natural science as a model that the Geisteswissenschaften should follow. Natural science can do no more than explain (erklären) observed events by relating them to other events in accordance with natural laws. These laws tell us nothing of the inner nature of the things and processes that we study. But with human beings there is a sense in which it is possible to go behind observable actions to something internal: we may understand (verstehen) their actions in terms of their thoughts, feelings, and desires. We can know not merely what a man does but the experiences (Erlebnisse), the thoughts, memories, value judgments, and purposes that have led him to do it.

Knowledge in this field is not, as in natural science, merely phenomenal and external. We have direct insight into the transitions whereby perceptions lead to thoughts, these to feelings, and these again to desires and acts of will. Such connections constitute the “structure” of the individual personality, and the understanding of them is also the key to a wider understanding of historical processes. Because men can communicate with one another, one man’s experiences can arouse thoughts and feelings and lead to actions on the part of other men as well as himself, and thus the individual “structural” pattern ramifies and becomes the life pattern of social groups, of nations and civilizations. The historical life of mankind is a continual process of interactions of this kind, and to under-stand a particular event or action or utterance, we must see it in this kind of context.

Dilthey’s Geisteswissenschaften are a somewhat heterogeneous group of subjects. They include an experimental and generalizing science (psychology), a study of individual persons and societies in the concrete particularity of their lives and actions (history, biography, autobiography), and normative and valuational studies (jurisprudence, moral theory, political theory, literary criticism, etc.). What all these have in common, according to Dilthey, is that they are all aspects of the study of human life and experience and that that study is not complete unless they are all brought in. Taken together, the Geisteswissenschaften show that men do live under conditions that can to some extent be formulated in general laws, whether of the individual psyche or of social groupings. Men are intelligible to us as individuals and interesting to us precisely because of their individuality and uniqueness. And all human experience and activity are shot through with choices, preferences, value judgments. Because human life as known to us is in itself more complex and many-sided than the phenomena of nature, the Geisteswissenschaften must also be a more various and many-sided body of disciplines, and no one method or principle can govern them all. They are all, however, dependent on our ability to understand the “structural” pattern of experience and thereby to see human behavior from within.

In the Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften Dilthey also argued that psychology has a fundamental place among these studies. He was not thinking of the experimental science of psychology as we know it today but of a descriptive and comparative kind of psychology that would culminate in a theory of personality types. Such a theory would be a useful tool in all the Geisteswissenschaften. While the Einleitung endorsed psychology, it was critical of sociology, which Dilthey considered to be a pseudo science. He was thinking of sociology in the grand manner, as conceived by Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, a study embracing all forms of cultural as well as social life and comparable in the vastness of its range to a philosophy of history such as Hegel’s. Such a grand synthesis, Dilthey held, would not give unity to the Geisteswissenschaften; they would achieve this unity only if world history were written in a way that made use of all the detailed insights that the Geisteswissenschaften can offer. Years later, in some notes made with a view to a revision of the Einleitung, Dilthey made it clear that he had no objection to sociology if it meant merely a comparative study of different forms of social groupings and stratifications.

Historiography

In the “Entwiirfe zur Kritik der historischen Vernunft” and elsewhere in his later writings, Dilthey laid less emphasis on the role of psychology and turned his attention to a philosophical analysis of the process by which one mind becomes aware of what goes on in another. The process may be summed up in the words experience, expression, understanding (Erlebnis, Ausdruck, Verstehen). We understand an expression by re-experiencing (nacherleben) in our own consciousness the experience from which the expression arose. This re-experiencing is, of course, not a perfect reproduction of the original experience; it is schematic, telescoped, incomplete, fallible. Dilthey distinguished different types of expression and different degrees of accuracy and confidence with which they can be interpreted. His particular approach to the problem of understanding led him to an interest in hermeneutics, that is, in the possibility of laying down principles and working rules for the guidance of those whose work is the interpretation of written texts. He showed how a theory of hermeneutics arose in patristic times out of the needs of scriptural exegesis, how it was developed under the influence of Reformation controversies and the beginnings of Biblical criticism, and how it was generalized and made into a philosophical discipline in the nineteenth century by Friedrich Schleiermacher. And taking the art of understanding expressions as the underlying factor common to all the Geisteswissenschaften, he showed that there is an easy transition from personal experience to auto-biography, thence to biographical and historical writings, thence to the more abstract and generalizing studies and the sectional disciplines, and finally to the grand synthesis in world history.

Dilthey’s doctrine of understanding as re-experiencing is open to question. Some may feel that it is too intense, too intimate and personal, and that he expects of the historian and social scientist too much of the poet’s or novelist’s gift. But by raising the question in the way he did, Dilthey touched off a lively and fruitful discussion, both among philosophers interested in the theory of knowledge and among those historians and social scientists who are interested in the aims and methods of their disciplines but are not satisfied with a statistical and behavioristic approach.

Dilthey’s interest in historical method was shared by Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert; but these, while better equipped than Dilthey in the logical techniques of philosophy, had no comparable experience of the actual work of historical writing. Dilthey was himself a biographer (Dos Leben Schleiermachers 1870; “Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels,” Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 4, pp. 1–187); a historian of ideas (”Auffassung und Analyse des Menschen im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert,” ibid., vol. 2, pp. 1–89); and a literary historian and critic (Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung … 1905).

Relativism

Dilthey was one of the proponents of the doctrine known as historicism, which insists that all human customs, institutions, and ideas are conditioned by the historical circumstances in which they arise and flourish and that although every society and every individual thinker professes to be in possession of objective truth, an outside observer can always see how this “truth” is conditioned by social and historical factors. Applied un-critically in the theory of knowledge, this view can lead to a historical relativism, that is, to the doctrine that all “truth” is relative to time and place and that objective knowledge is impossible. Dilthey’s view can also lead to a psychological relativism. He believed that a man’s Weltanschauung, the complex of his beliefs and judgments concerning ultimate questions, is determined as much by his psychological structure and basic attitudes as by valid reasoning from sound premises. He developed a typology of Weltanschauungen; the basic types are naturalism, the idealism of freedom, and objective idealism. Naturalism means that one is impressed chiefly by the impersonal order of nature; idealism of freedom, that one gives priority to the unique status of man as a free agent; and objective idealism, that one conceives of the universe as an organic whole. Schools of art, and religious and philosophical systems, can be classified by their conformity to and expression of one of the three main types of attitude or, as may happen, of any combination of these.

Views such as these seem to verge on an ultimate skepticism. Controversy has arisen both about the merits of Dilthey’s argument in itself and about the degree to which he personally drew skeptical conclusions. He was in fact no skeptic and did not believe that his principles must lead to skepticism; he believed rather that in those spheres where empirical methods can be applied, which include some sections of the Geisteswissenschaften as well as the natural sciences, real discoveries and real progress can be made, and there is objective knowledge. It is in the realm of value judgments and life attitudes that he felt that relativity is inescapable, but also that proper acceptance of it can lead to an enrichment of life rather than to frustration (Hodges 1952, pp. 310–314). Karl Jaspers, for instance, who in his early work was influenced by Dilthey’s typology of Weltanschauungen (see 1931), has moved on to a form of existentialist philosophy, and this is another possible outcome of Dilthey’s teaching.

H. A. Hodges

[See alsoHistory, article onThe Philosophyof history; Knowledge, Sociology of; and the biographies ofMannheim; Meinecke; Ortega y Gasset.]

WORKS BY DILTHEY

(1870) 1922 Das Leben Schleiermachers. 2d ed. Berlin and Leipzig: Gruyter.

1894 Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, Sitzungsberichte 2:1309–1407.

(1905) 1957 Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung: Lessing, Goethe, Novalis, Hölderlin. Stuttgart (Germany): Teubner.

(1905–1910) 1961 Meaning in History: W. Dilthey’s Thoughts on History and Society. Edited with an introduction by H. P. Rickman. London: Allen & Unwin. → A partial translation of Wilhelm Dilthey’s, Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften. A paperback edition was published by Harper in 1961 as Pattern and Meaning in History.

(1907) 1954 The Essence of Philosophy. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. → First published as Das Wesen der Philosophic.

(1931) 1957 Philosophy of Existence: Introduction to Weltanschauungslehre. New York: Bookman Associates. → A translation of “Die Typen der Weltanschauung und ihre Ausbildung in dem metaphysischen System,” pages 75–118 in Dilthey’s Weltanschauungslehre.

Gesammelte Schriften. 12 vols. Leipzig: Teubner, 1914–1958. → Volume 1: Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften, (1883) 1923. Volume 2: Weltanschauung und Analyse des Menschen seit Renaissance und Reformation, (1889–1904) 1921. Volume 3: Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Geistes, 1927. Volume 4: Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels und andere Abhandlungen zur Geschichte des deutschen Idealismus, (1864–1906) 1921. Volume 5–6: Die geistige Welt, (1867–1907) 1924. Volume 7: Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften, (1905–1910) 1927. Volume 8: Weltanschauungslehre, 1931. Volume 9: Pddagogik, 1934. Volume 10: System der Ethik, 1958. Volume 11: Von Aufgang des geschichtlichen Bewusstseins, 1936. Volume 12: Zur preussischen Geschichte, (1861–1872) 1936. Volume 12 contains a comprehensive bibliography of Dilthey’s writings.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gardiner, Patrick (editor) 1959 Theories of History: Readings From Classical and Contemporary Sources. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → Contains a previously untranslated extract from Dilthey’s writings.

Hodges, H. A. 1944 Wilhelm Dilthey: An Introduction. London: Trubner.

Hodges, H. A. 1952 The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. London: Routledge.

Kluback, William 1956 Wilhelm Dilthey’s Philosophy of History. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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Dilthey, Wilhelm

Dilthey, Wilhelm (1833–1911) A German philosopher, one of the great precursors of the interpretative tradition in sociology, Dilthey's central preoccupation was with the creation of an adequate philosophical foundation for knowledge in the human or historical sciences. For him, the world of human history and culture consisted of ‘expressions’ of human life-experience (Erlebnis) which were to be apprehended and understood in ways quite different from and irreducible to the methods of the natural sciences. His early conviction that psychology could play the part of a foundational science for the human sciences was eventually displaced in favour of a hermeneutic approach (see INTERPRETATION) to institutions, religions, buildings, and so on, as so many ‘objectifications’ of life-experience. See also GEISTESWISSENSCHAFTEN AND NATURWISSENSCHAFTEN; IDEOGRAPHIC VERSUS NOMOTHETIC APPROACHES.

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"Dilthey, Wilhelm." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Dilthey, Wilhelm." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/dilthey-wilhelm

Dilthey, Wilhelm

Wilhelm Dilthey (vĬl´hĕlm dĬl´tī), 1833–1911, German philosopher. He taught at the universities of Basel, Kiel, Breslau, and Berlin. He was one of the first to claim the independence of the human sciences as distinct from the natural sciences. Dilthey laid down a foundation of descriptive and analytic psychology on which to base a study of philosophy. One of his principal works is Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften [introduction to the human studies] (1883).

See his monograph, The Essence of Philosophy (tr. 1954); study by R. A. Makkreel (1975).

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