Wilhelm Dilthey

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Dilthey, Wilhelm


Born Nov. 19, 1833, in Biebrich am Rhein; died Oct. 1, 1911, in Seis. German cultural historian and idealist philosopher; representative of the philosophy of life; professor at Basel, Kiel, Breslau, and Berlin.

The philosophical views of Dilthey (a student of F. Trendelenburg) were formed under the influence of German idealism and romanticism, with their emphasis on the subjective world and their interest in culture and history. His philosophical ideas were also influenced by English and French positivism (J. S. Mill and A. Comte; the anti-metaphysical position and method of psychologism as the analysis of the immediate data of consciousness). The neo-Kantian views of the Baden school also had some influence on Dilthey (the opposition between the natural sciences and cultural-historical knowledge).

The concept of life as man’s mode of being, as cultural-historical reality, is central for Dilthey. According to him, man has no history but is history, and only history can reveal what kind of being man is. Dilthey sharply divides the world of nature from the human world of history. In Dilthey’s opinion, the task of philosophy as the “study of the spirit” is to “understand life, taking our point of departure from life itself (see Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5, Leipzig-Berlin, 1924, p. 4). In connection with this, Dilthey proposed the method of “understanding” as a direct comprehension of a certain spiritual wholeness (the integral experience). Dilthey contrasted understanding, which he considered akin to intuitive penetration into life, with the method of “explanation” used in the “sciences of nature,” which deal with external experience and are connected with the constructive activity of reason. Understanding of one’s own inner world is achieved with the aid of introspection (self-observation) and understanding of someone else’s world, by “living in,” “co-experience,” and “empathy.” With respect to the culture of the past, understanding acts as a method of interpretation, called “hermetics” by Dilthey. That is, individual phenomena are interpreted as moments (elements) of the integral spiritual and emotional life of the period being reconstructed.

In his later works Dilthey turned away from introspection as a psychological means of understanding, concentrating instead on examining the culture of the past as a product of the “objective spirit.” Here, Dilthey to a large extent anticipates neo-Hegelianism. However, he had a negative attitude toward panlogism. In contrast to Hegel, Dilthey always maintained a romantic inclination to acknowledge the “last secret” of life, which the interpreter can approach but cannot reach. Like the romantics, Dilthey examines the integrity of historical formations through the prism of the wholeness of the human personality—his basic historical research centered on the principle of combining a number of individual biographies. Moreover, the determining trait of Dilthey’s historicism is relativism. This also characterizes his doctrine of the three basic types of world view, understood as the expression of a total personal attitude: naturalism, the idealism of freedom, and objective idealism. Dilthey has exerted great influence on the development of 20th-century bourgeois philosophy, particularly existentialism. In his social views Dilthey was a representative of bourgeois liberalism.


Gesammelte Schriften, 2nd ed., vols. 1-12. Stuttgart-Göttingen, 1957-60.
In Russian translation:
Opisatel’naia psikhologiia. Moscow, 1924.
“Tipy mirovozzreniia i obnaruzhenie ikh v metafizicheskikh sistemakh.” In the collection Novye idei vfilosofii, no. 1. St. Petersburg, 1912.


Kon, I. V. “Dil’tei i ego ’kritika istoricheskogo razuma’.” In the collection Kritika noveishei burzhuaznoi istoriografii. Leningrad, 1967.
Gaidenko, P. P. “Kategoriia vremeni v burzhuaznoi evropeiskoi filosofii istorii 20 veka.” In the collection Filosofskie problemy istoricheskoi nauki. Moscow, 1969.
Spranger, E. W. Dilthey. Leipzig, 1912.
Hodges, H. A. The Philosophy of W. Dilthey. London, 1952.
Bollnow, O. F. Dilthey, 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1955.


References in periodicals archive ?
Impeccable and insightful discussions of Kant, Schleiemacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, Lyotard, Derrida, and Ricoeur are just a few of the choicest highlights.
Ricoeur identifies critical moments in the modern development of hermeneutics by referring to such major contributors as Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer.
In the late nineteenth century, Max Weber and Wilhelm Dilthey, by providing cognitive theory based on interpretation, proposed interpretive method, as a certain method, instead of explanative method.
Perhaps the leading exponent of the interpretative (ideographic) approach was Wilhelm Dilthey (1961:76), who took the somewhat psychological position that experience of history does not lie in the facts as experienced, but by some category of interpretation in which we experience the "mental content" of the actors in terms of values, purposes, time, and place.
A problem, however, Ong maintains, is that hermeneutics traditionally has been conceived in terms of visualist or textualist models for understanding, as practiced by Dilthey, Schleiermacher, and to some extent even Gadamer and Ricoeur.
Indeed, as Beiser points out, some prominent members (Humboldt, Ranke, Dilthey, and Weber) of the tradition "were highly critical of the philosophy of history, fearing that any association with its metaphysics would contaminate or undermine the scientific status of history itself" (8).
At this moment, in the presence of the dialectical tradition, which he links up with les sciences humaines of Dilthey, Vico, and Auerbach, he establishes a continuity with Marxism, but one largely left undeclared (444-48).
gt;> (refletant l'opposition de Dilthey (1947) entre le << verstehen >> et l'<< erklaren >>) (Becker 2002).
In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, figures such as August Ernesti (note that the name of the main character in the novel, Ernesto, differs by only one letter), Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey transformed hermeneutics into the basis of a general methodology of textual interpretation for the humanities.
He compares Arnold's ideas developed in the key essays "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" (1864) and "Literature and Science" (1882) with those of William (Wilhelm) Dilthey (1833-1911), a German historian, sociologist, and philosopher.
La terminologia Bildungsroman, fue introducida en la literatura del siglo xix por el critico Wilhelm Dilthey que en su obra Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung (Experiencia y poesia) publicada en 1906, da una definicion mas detallada del termino.
Dilthey, Beitrage zur Losung der Frage vom Ursprung unseres Glaubens an die Realitat der Aussenwelt und seinem Recht (Musu tikejimo isorinio pasaulio realumu istakos ir tikejimo teisetumo problema sprendziantys klausimai) (1890).