Wilhelm Dilthey

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Dilthey, Wilhelm

The “Geisteswissenschaften”





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.


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).


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.]


(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.


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 (18331911), German philosopher of history and intellectual historian. Dilthey was born in Biebrich am Rhein, where his father, a liberal Calvinist theologian, was court chaplain to the duke of Nassau. Following graduation at the head of his Gymnasium class in nearby Wiesbaden, he enrolled at Heidelberg in 1852 to study theology. After only a year, however, he left for Berlin and there began to concentrate on history and philosophy, studying with some of the greatest representatives of German historical scholarship: Leopold von Ranke, Theodor Mommsen, Jakob Grimm, August Boeckh, Franz Bopp, and Karl Ritter. In philosophy, his principal mentor was the Aristotelian F. A. Trendelenburg. Dilthey's interest in the German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher also stems from this Berlin period. In 1860, his essay on Schleiermacher's hermeneutics was awarded two prizes by the Schleiermacher Society and was followed by a commission to complete an edition of Schleiermacher's correspondence and write his biography. Dilthey defended his doctoral dissertation on Schleiermacher's moral principles in 1864. In the same year he presented a monograph on the analysis of moral consciousness that served as his Habilitationsschrift, the thesis that qualified him for university teaching. After a brief period of teaching at Berlin, he was called to Basel in 1867, and then to Kiel in 1868.

In 1870, Dilthey published the initial volume of his Leben Schleiermachers (Life of Schleiermacher), the first of several ambitious projects that would remain unfinished. In 1871, he accepted a chair at Breslau, where his main efforts were devoted to the problem of the nature and methods of the human sciences. In 1883, he published the first part of his major philosophical work, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Introduction to the Human Sciences). In 1883, Dilthey also returned to Berlin to succeed Hermann Lotze in the chair that had once been occupied by Hegel. Election to the Prussian Academy of the Sciences followed in 1897. In 1900, he gave up his seminars, and in 1907 he retired from teaching altogether in order to develop more systematically the philosophical ideas put forward in the Einleitung. Dilthey died while on a working holiday in the Austrian Tyrol in 1911.

Dilthey's research on Schleiermacher and his account of the process of understanding the activity of a religious thinker constituted an important component of his work on the theory and practice of intellectual history. Yet his major contribution to religious studies lies in his theory of the human studies and its implications for the scientific investigation of religion.

Dilthey's theory of the human studies may be understood as an attempt to establish the idea that these disciplines have a distinctive subject matter and method that differentiate them from the natural sciences. The difference in subject matter is not grounded in two different modes of being but is, rather, based on two different ways of experiencing the world. Each is empirical, and each has its own definitive scientific objectivity and validity. The distinctive subject matter of the natural sciences is the world as given in the abstractions of sense perception and structured by reference to causal laws. The distinctive subject matter of the human sciences is the world as the person actually experiences it: the historically constituted ensemble of meanings and values that are the objects of his practical projects and interests. Because the artifacts of this historical world are all expressions of the human spirit, or Geist, the human sciences are the Geisteswissenschaften, the disciplines that investigate expressions of the human spirit.

Verstehen, or understanding, the distinctive method of these disciplines, is a consequence of the attitude that defines their subject matter. Because the actions and artifacts that express the human spirit are meaningful entities, a kind of knowledge is possible in the human sciences that cannot be reduced to explanation, or knowledge of the nomological structure of natural phenomena. Verstehen identifies the meaningful content of expressions of the spirit and the structures in which they are implicated. Much of Dilthey's work in the philosophy of the human sciences was concerned with the elucidation of this process of understanding and its distinctive epistemological quality, which he called the hermeneutic circle. An interpretation of the Romantic movement, for example, presupposes prior knowledge of which persons, actions, and artifacts fall within it. However, the latter are identifiable only on the basis of a general criterion that defines the features of romanticism. Thus knowledge of the whole rests on knowledge of the parts, which in turn presupposes knowledge of the whole.

The main aim of Dilthey's philosophical work was to develop a critique of historical reason that would resolve the question of how knowledge in the human sciences is possible. Dilthey struggled with this enterprise for more than forty years in the attempt to identify a basic or foundational science for the human sciences. In his writings of the 1880s and the early 1890s, he seems to have envisaged a descriptive, analytical, and phenomenological psychology as this foundation. Beginning in 1895, however, he stressed hermeneutics, or the theory of interpretation, as the basis for a valid theory of knowledge on which the human sciences can be grounded. Nevertheless, in his last works Dilthey retained intact many of the psychological theses of his earlier writings; moreover, the hermeneutic doctrines of his later work are also present in his earlier writings. As a result, the relationship between psychology and hermeneutics in the development of Dilthey's thought remains one of the most controverted issues among scholars who have attempted to understand his project of a critique of historical reason.


The standard edition of Dilthey's works is the Gesammelte Schriften, 2d ed. (Stuttgart, 1957), of which twenty-three volumes, prepared by various editors, have appeared. Also being published is a six-volume English edition of selected works by Dilthey. Under the general editorship of Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi, five volumes have so far been issued. Major works on Dilthey in English include Makkreel's Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies (Princeton, 1975), Michael Ermarth's Wilhelm Dilthey: The Critique of Historical Reason (Chicago, 1978), H. P. Rickman's Wilhelm Dilthey: Pioneer of the Human Studies (Berkeley, 1979), and Theodore Plantinga's Historical Understanding in the Thought of Wilhelm Dilthey (Toronto, 1980). For extant English translations of Dilthey's works, see Plantinga's bibliography. Since 1983 there has also been a scholarly journal devoted to Dilthey's work, with some articles in English and current bibliography: Dilthey-Jahrbuch für Philosophie und Geschichte der Geisteswissenschaften (Göttingen).

New Sources

Bambach, Charles R. Heidegger, Dilthey, and the Crisis of Historicism. Ithaca, 1995.

Makkreel, Rudolf A., and John Scanlon. Dilthey and Phenomenology. Washington, D.C., 1987.

Owensby, Jacob. Dilthey and the Narrative of History. Ithaca, 1994.

Rickman, H. P. Dilthey Today: A Critical Appraisal of the Contemporary Relevance of his Work. New York, 1988.

Tuttle, Howard N. The Dawn of Historical Reason: The Historicality of Human Existence in the Thought of Dilthey, Heidegger, and Ortega y Gasset. New York, 1994.

Guy Oakes (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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DILTHEY, WILHELM (1833–1911), German philosopher.

Wilhelm Dilthey was born in Biebrich, near Wiesbaden, in 1833 and died in Siusi am Schlern, in the South Tyrol, in 1911. He studied in Berlin under the philosopher Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg (1802–1872) and the leaders of the "Historical School." After giving up early theological studies, he turned to a wide-ranging examination of the culture of the age of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), as seen also through the prism of the life and work of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). The result was a colossal but never completed Life of Schleiermacher, of which only a first volume (1870) appeared in Dilthey's lifetime.

After teaching in Basel, Kiel, and Breslau, Dilthey returned to Berlin in 1882 and stayed there until the end of his life. In 1883 he published an Introduction to the Human Sciences, which presented the theoretical and methodological results of his philosophical reflections and historical research. The work was conceived as the first part of a "critique of historical reason" whose foundation was the principle of anthropological unity and the conception of temporality as the historical dimension of reason. In this volume Dilthey deployed both the analysis of inner experience and the investigation of historicocultural reality in support of the idea that the knowledge characteristic of the "human sciences" was a knowledge founded not on explanation but on understanding. His essays of the 1880s and 1890s, dealing with issues still outstanding, including the theory of knowledge, logic, methodology, and so on, effectively rounded out and articulated the entire project. Thus in "Poetics" (1887), the analysis of artistic creativity helped explain the metamorphic character of experience.

An essay on reality published in 1890 stressed that the origin of belief in the external world lay in will and sentiment rather than in representation; and two psychological papers (1894–1895) evoked a method of investigation that rejected the methods of explanation and association derived from empiricism and sought instead to apprehend what is typical and historical in individuals. The general outline of Dilthey's thought is discernible in several manuscripts of the same period that also propose the development of a not formal logic that would reveal the immanent structures—or "categories"—of life. These years also produced fruitful correspondence between Dilthey and Count Paul Yorck von Wartenburg.

From 1896 on, Dilthey delved more deeply into important aspects of the "history of the German spirit," exploring the origins of anthropological knowledge, before Goethe, and producing monographic studies such as that on the young Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) or those of a historicoliterary nature collected in Lived Experience and Poetry (1906). At the same time he reviewed the general principles of his philosophical orientation, finding fresh avenues to explore not only in the history of hermeneutics but also in the incipient phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). In his writings after 1905, these avenues converged into a new phenomenological and hermeneutic project, a "construction of the historical world," centered on the relationships between lived experience, expression, and understanding, that was integral to Dilthey's morphological comparison of the ways in which life and world are conceived of by different Weltanschauungen.

The last year of Dilthey's life was marked by his polemic with Husserl, who in an essay had accused him of vitalism and relativism. As the correspondence between the two philosophers makes clear, Dilthey looked on this polemic as evidence of the same sort of inattentive reading and misunderstanding that had underlain criticisms leveled at his work at the time of his psychological studies of 1894–1895. On the other hand, it needs to be borne in mind that much of the historical reception of Dilthey's thought has been dominated by the application of preconceived notions. In fact many early interpreters described Dilthey's thinking in terms of antithetical phases, and sought to supply continuity by speaking of a psychological phase and a hermeneutic one, or a Kantian moment and a Hegelian one, thus failing to grasp its radical unity. Matters were not improved later, when twentieth-century hermeneutics, notably that of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002), merely reinforced the image of a Dilthey imbued with the Romantic spirit but at the same time caught in the toils of positivism, as though his entire work were exclusively concerned with methodological problems. No less destructive were interpretations of Dilthey from the camp of Marxist cultural criticism, which often stressed the supposedly antirationalist aspects of his philosophy of life.

Research in the 1970s based on important, hitherto unpublished manuscripts threw serious doubt on such readings. The upshot has been a new sense of the unity of a Diltheyan thought engaged in rich and fruitful dialogue with crucial aspects of phenomenology. This has in turn helped illuminate the strong relevance that Dilthey's philosophy had in the 1920s not only for Husserl but also for Martin Heidegger (1889–1976); it has likewise facilitated the reassessment of developments in Diltheyan thought attributable to the philosopher's principal followers (notably Georg Misch, 1889–1965).

See alsoGoethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; History; Husserl, Edmund; Ranke, Leopold von; Schleiermacher, Friedrich.


Primary Sources

Dilthey, Wilhelm. Selected Works. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. 5 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1985–2003.

Secondary Sources

Hodges, Herbert Arthur. The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. London, 1952.

Makkreel, Rudolf A. Dilthey, Philosopher of the Human Studies. Princeton, N.J., 1975.

Rodi, Frithjof. Das strukturierte Ganze: Studien zum Werk von Wilhelm Dilthey. Weilerswist, Germany, 2003.

Giovanni Matteucci

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German philosopher and historian famed for his work in the cultural and historical sciences (Geisteswissenschaften ); b. Biebrich on the Rhine, Nov. 19, 1833; d. Seis on the Schlern, Oct. 1, 1911. The son of a Protestant clergyman, Dilthey studied at Berlin; he taught successively at Berlin (1865), Basel (1867), Kiel (1868), and Breslau (1871), and finally was recalled to Berlin (1882) to succeed R. H. lotze. He ranks as one of the great representatives of the German historical school.

Thought. The breadth and versatility of Dilthey's inquiries and the often tentative and fragmentary character of his works belie the strong inner unity of his thought. Everything he wrote expresses an undeviating concern with the problem of historical consciousness. History, he said, would not hold his interest were it not a way to understand the universe and man. He conceived his life's work as one of providing a critique of historical reason comparable and complementary to the Critique of Pure Reason of I. kant. This interest was occasioned by the rapid development and proliferation of the historical and cultural sciences in the early 19th century, which he felt were threatened by the imposition of unsuitable methods from the sciences of nature (Naturwissenschaften ) and by innovations in metaphysics. The historical and cultural sciences therefore required a philosophical foundation if they were to avoid complete relativism and skepticism.

In its first formulation Dilthey's problem appeared, in Kantian guise, as the critical foundation of the Geisteswissenschaften; or, with positivist overtones, as their organization and unification; or along empiricist lines, as a need for a profounder psychological understanding of man. Dilthey saw all historical phenomena as an expression (Ausdruck ) of man's ongoing vital experience (Erlebnis ), which he inevitably understands (Verstehen ) before he analyzes them scientifically. At this level there is a vital connaturality of knower and known, in contrast to the alien externality of physical nature and the abstractions of the natural sciences.

On the second level of inquiry Dilthey's theory of the Geisteswissenschaften became his "philosophy of life" (Lebensphilosophie ), which culminated in a "new" historical concept of philosophy (Weltanschauungslehre ), a "philosophy of philosophy." This affirms the historical relativity of every philosophical system, the impossibility of absolute, perennially valid formulas, and a limited acceptance of philosophy, not as a science but as a "metaphysical consciousness." Unable to escape the positivist dilemma, Dilthey continued to search for a methodic secret that would deliver him from skeptical relativism.

On a third restless round of inquiry he undertook a critical analysis of his method of "Verstehen, " i.e., the spontaneous, empathic, intuitive structuring of life-experience that precedes reflective concept formation. In this patient process Dilthey enlarged the "historical method" into a basic method for all philosophy.

Critique. Growing contemporary interest in Dilthey still concentrates too narrowly on his Weltanschauungslehre as a contribution to the philosophy of history. M. Heidegger has recognized Dilthey's philosophical importance by presenting his own profound analysis of historicity as simply assisting later generations to understand and to assimilate the work of Dilthey. Catholic scholars welcome Dilthey's exposé of a false rationalism and abstractionism, but deplore his rejection of the supernatural and his failure to see that Kant's refutation of a deductive, Cartesian type of metaphysics was no refutation of metaphysics itself. By his painful inability to break out of the positivist prison, Dilthey bears witness to the power of his own "historical situation."

See Also: history, philosophy of

Bibliography: Works. Gesammelte Schriften, 12 v. (Berlin 191436; repr. Göttingen 195760); Das Leben Schleiermachers, 2d ed. h. mulert (Berlin 1922); Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung (Berlin 1913); Grundriss der allgemeinen Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. h. g. gadamer (Frankfurt 1949); Die grosse Phantasiedichtung und andere Studien zur vergleichenden Literaturgeschichte (Göttingen 1954); Der junge Dilthey: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen und Tagebüchern, 18521870, ed. c. misch (Berlin 1933); The Essence of Philosophy, tr. s. a. and w. t. emery (Chapel Hill, N.C. 1954), tr. of Das Wesen der Philosophie (1907). Literature. h. holborn, "Dilthey and the Critique of Historical Reason," Journal of the History of Ideas 11 (1950) 93118. h. a. hodges, Wilhelm Dilthey: An Introduction (New York 1945); The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey (London 1952). w. kluback, Wilhelm Dilthey's Philosophy of History (New York 1956). w. kluback and m. weinbaum, Dilthey's Philosophy of Existence (New York 1957). h. p. rickman, ed., Wilhelm Dilthey: Pattern and Meaning in History (New York 1962). h. diwald, Wilhelm Dilthey: Erkenntnistheorie und Philosophie der Geschichte (Göttingen 1963). j.f. suter, Philosophie et histoire chez Wilhelm Dilthey (Basel 1960).

[p. l. hug]

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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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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).