Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Wilhelm Dilthey (November 19, 1833–October 1, 1911) was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist, student of Hermeneutics, the study of interpretations and meanings, and a philosopher. He was inspired by the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher on hermeneutics, which had been neglected. They were both a part of the German Romanticism movement, and he could be considered a kind of empiricist. However, his empirical work was not precisely similar to British empiricism in its central epistemological assumptions. In the school of Romantic hermeneutics they stressed that an interpreter—not necessarily a Cartesian subject—could use insight, combined with cultural and historical context, to bring about truer understanding of a text. For dead writers this was especially true if there was an awareness of historical context. He was very interested in what we would call sociology today, although he strongly objected to being labelled a sociologist because the sociology of his day was mainly that of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer. He objected to their evolutionist assumptions about the necessary changes that all societal formations must go through. Also, the terms tended to be used as a kind of umbrella term, which is often still the case. Since the term sociology covered so much it had little analytical clarity. Comte's idea of Positivism was, according to Dilthey, one-sided and misleading. He did, however, have good things to say about Georg Simmel's versions of sociology. (Simmel was a colleague at the University of Berlin and Dilthey admired his work even though many academics were opposed to Simmel altogether, in part due to anti-Semitism and in part due to the fact that Simmel did not conform to the academic formalities of the day in some of his published work.) Dilthey also applied a label to the process of inquiry Schleiermacher had founded, naming it the Hermeneutic circle . The "general hermeneutics" that Schleiermacher suggested was a combination of the hermeneutics used to interpret Sacred Scriptures (e.g. the New Testament) and the hermeneutics used by Classicists. Dilthey saw its relevance for the Geisteswissenschaften.
Distinction between sciences
He also strongly rejected using a model formed from exclusively from the Naturwissenschaft ("Natural sciences") (in regard to hermeneutics) and instead proposed developing a separate model for the Geisteswissenschaften, the "human sciences" of philosophy, psychology, history, philology, sociology, etc... His argument centered around the idea that in the natural sciences, we only seek an explanation, a description of the concept; whereas in the human sciences, we (also) seek to understand. (In the social sciences we may also combine the two approaches, a point stressed by Max Weber.) His principles, he asserted, could be applied to all manner of interpretation ranging from ancient texts, to art work, to religious works, and even to the study of law. His interpretation of different theories of aesthetics in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was preliminary to his speculations concerning the form aesthetic theory would take in the twentieth century. Dilthey's ideas should be examined in terms of his similarities and differences with Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert, members of the Baden School of Neo-Kantianism. Dilthey was not a Neo-Kantian in the strict sense, but he had a profound knowledge of Immanuel Kant's philosophy. H. A. Hodges provides the most accessible introduction in English. The Selected Works of Wilhelm Dilthey are being edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. J. I. Hans Bakker has argued that Wilhelm Dilthey should be considered one of the classical sociological theorists because of his important role in discussing Verstehen and his influence on Interpretive Sociology generally.
- Literary criticism
- Literary theory
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
- John Stuart Mill
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