Who is Wilhelm Dilthey?

Who is Wilhelm Dilthey?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Wilhelm Dilthey was a German philosopher who was born and lived in Germany between 1833 and 1911 and made significant contributions to the methodology of the social sciences.


Wilhelm Dilthey was born in Biebrich on the Rhine to a family of Protestant priests and studied theology and philosophy. Against the widespread influence of natural sciences, Dilthey developed a philosophy of life that deals with “human” in the context of its variability and contingency.

Dilthey, who took philosophy education after her theology education, turned to philosophical research at an academic level after her education. He has undertaken extensive research on a wide variety of subjects; In addition to theology, philosophy and literature, he closely followed developments in empirical sciences such as sociology, ethnology, psychology and physiology.

Wilhelm Dilthey

He completed his doctorate in Berlin in 1864 and started working at the University of Basel in 1866. This was followed by his appointment to the universities of Kiel in 1868 and to Breslau in 1871. He replaced R. H. Lotze at the University of Berlin in 1882 and spent the rest of his life there.

Previously, he summarized it as “human, social and state sciences” somewhat vaguely; but he later explored the philosophical basis of the sciences he called Geisteswissenschaften (Spiritual Sciences). The term eventually became widely accepted to collectively refer to the fields of history, philosophy, religion, psychology, art, literature, law, politics, and economics.

The first volume of his research, the Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Introduction to the Spiritual Sciences), appeared in 1883. He never completed the second volume, on which he continued to work incessantly, but this first work led to a series of important trials.

The main sources that Dilthey was influenced by are the philosophical hermeneutics of the 19th century as renewed by Vico, Herder, Goethe, Schleiermacher, German Idealism (especially Hegel), Romantic School of Phyology (especially Schlegel and Böckh) and the historiography of the German History School.

Within the framework of these influences, he researched and interpreted the whole of the Western history, especially the history of Western science and art. It would not be an exaggeration to say that much of his commentary on Western history, science and art has not been surpassed today.

Wilhelm Dilthey

Dilthey in this deepening and intensification; He devoted himself to a “Historical Critique of Reason” that was left unfinished with his death, tending to investigate an epistemological ground on which the sciences (spiritual sciences) dealing with history and society would be based, but which would be different from the ground on which natural sciences were based and which Kant pointed out in his “Critique of Pure Reason.”

After his death, the publication of his works, which were brought together in the “Collections” (Gesammelte Schritten) series, was completed in 1972 in 16 large volumes.

Dilthey, a distinguished historian, started from positivism, however, he was also under the influence of Kant to a large extent. In this respect, he is a typical 19th century thinker. However, Dilthey should also be counted among the distinguished representatives of the 1900 crisis, for he managed to dominate these two effects in favor of an irrational relativism.

Its main problem is the understanding of life and life. Dilthey, his life, in a teleological manner, as a set of tendencies; He designs it as a closed unity, life is a whole that encompasses the human species. Every phenomenon of life has a meaning as long as that phenomenon experiences what enters the realm of life.

In his theory of epistemology, Dilthey opposes understandingist teachings: we know not with our intellect, but with the integrity of our spirit, and we observe the external world with our will, which is met with resistance.

Dilthey put forward a detailed theory of epistemology (Hermeneutics). The three basic principles of this theory are:

Historical knowledge is self-directed reflection, understanding (versthen), neither explaining (erklären) nor a rational function, understanding takes place with all the sensual powers of the soul.
Understanding is a movement from life to life, because reality is life.
We can achieve total harmony only with the cooperation and harmony of all the forces of the soul.

Toward the last years of his life, Dilthey arrived at the teaching of a worldview: Weltanschouung can ultimately be reduced to different vital attitudes, which are exalted by religious conduct. Man himself and his philosophy must be reintegrated into the historical flow.

Three types of philosophies can be cited in history corresponding to three vital attitudes. If the intellect is dominant, positivist materialism emerges, if an emotional attitude predominates, the heptheistic objective idealism is reached, and finally, if the will prevails, Plato’s, Christianity’s or Kant’s idealism of freedom is encountered.

Philosophy, like everything human, is purely relative. The last word of the historical worldview is the relativity of any human conception. Everything is in motion, nothing stands still.

Related topics:

Dilthey’s philosophy
Dilthey’s contributions to the cultural sciences

Contemporary Europe