Dilthey, Wilhelm

Dilthey, Wilhelm

Dilthey, Wilhelm (vĭlˈhĕlm dĭlˈtī), 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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Dilthey, Wilhelm

(1833- 1911) German idealist philosopher who argued for a methodological distinction to be made between the natural and the cultural sciences. Major works by him include The Life of Schleiermachers (1870) and The Construction of the Historical World in the Cultural Sciences (1910). A NEO-KANTIAN, he argued that whilst natural science should be practised in an essentially naturalistic manner, social science should be characterized by EMPATHIC UNDERSTANDING and a psychologistic understanding of cultural phenomena. The only proper way to understand the ‘spirit of the age’ (ZEITGEIST) is to interpret the WORLD VIEWs of its participants. He imported the term HERMENEUTICS from theology to describe this practice, but also used VERSTEHEN (understanding), a term which significantly influenced the thinking of Max WEBER. The two methods have since become distinct, though both are classed as interpretative. Dilthey's historical relativism, his conflation of the SUBJECT AND OBJECT (we are part of what we study) and his psychologistic approach on VERSTEHEN have all been criticized. His view of texts as objectifications of life, has been continued in the work of GADAMER. See also IDEALISM, GEISTESWISSENSCHAFTEN AND NATURWISSENSCHAFTEN, IDIOGRAPHIC AND NOMOTHETIC.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Dilthey, Wilhelm. Hermeneutics and the Study of History.
Dilthey, Wilhelm (2002a) "The Delimitation of the Human Sciences".
DILTHEY, Wilhelm. Selected Works, Volume III: The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences.
Mises placed himself in the tradition of the Southwest German School of Wilhelm Dilthey, Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert, and Max Weber.
DILTHEY, Wilhelm. Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften.