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.

WORKS

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.

REFERENCES

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.

P. P. GAIDENKO

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