“The knife of historical relativism...which has cut to pieces
all metaphysics and religion must also bring about healing. Only we
need to be thorough. We have to make philosophy itself an object of
“The human being knows itself only in history, never through
introspection; indeed, we all seek it in history. Or, to put it more
generally, we seek what is human in it, such as religion, and so on.
We want to know what it is. If there were a science of human beings
it would be anthropology that aims at understanding the totality of
experience through structural context. The individual always realizes
only one of the possibilities in its development, which could always
have taken a different turning whenever it has to make an important
decision. The human being is only given to us at all in terms of its
“The emancipation of the particular sciences began at the end
of the Middle Ages. However, the sciences of society and of history
retained their old subservient relation to metaphysics for a long
time—well into the eighteenth century. In addition, the increasing
power of the knowledge of nature subjugated them in a new manner,
and no less oppressively. It was the Historical School—taking
that term in its broadest sense—that first brought about the
emancipation of historical consciousness and historical scholarship.
The French system of social thought developed in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Its ideas of natural law and natural religion,
and its abstract theories of the state and of political economy, manifested
their political consequences in the Revolution when the armies of
that revolution occupied and destroyed the ramshackle, thousand-year-old
edifice of the Holy Roman Empire. At the same time, the view developed
in Germany that historical growth is the source of all spiritual facts—a
view which proved the falsity of that whole French system of social
thought. This insight was shared by Winckelmann and Herder, the Romantic
school, Niebuhr, Jakob Grimm, Savigny, and Boeckh. It was strengthened
by the reaction against the Revolution. In England, it was promoted
by Burke, in France by Guizot, and de Tocqueville. In all the conflicts
of European society, it challenged eighteenth-century ideas about
law, government, and religion. The Historical School was characterized
by a purely empirical mode of observation, sympathetic immersion in
the details of the historical process, a universal approach to history
aiming to determine the value of a particular state of affairs solely
from the context of its development. This school considered spiritual
life as historical through and through and approached social theory
historically, seeking the explanations and rules of contemporary life
in the study of the past. New ideas flowed from it through countless
channels into all the particular disciplines.” (“Introduction,”
Hermeneutics and the Study of History).
Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften,
GS 1, Vol. 1, 1883; (Vol. 2 was never completed); ET: Introduction
to Human Sciences. (the earliest of Dilthey's systematic works)
Die Einbildungskraft des Dichters: Bausteine für
eine Poetik, 1887; ET: The Imaginative Power of the Power:
Building Blocks for a Theory of Poetry. (major systematic treatise
“Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde
Pscyhologie,” In GS, V, 139-237 : ET: Ideas Concerning
a Descriptive and Analytical Psychology. (a cognitive, structural
psychology which is key to Dilthey's pschological period)
“Die Entstehung der Hermeneutik,” Festschrift:
Philosophische Abhandlungen, Christoph Sigwart zu seinen 70. Geburtstag
28 März 1900. Tübingen 1900, 185-202; repr. in GS
V, 317-38; ET: “The Rise of Hermeneutics,” In Wilhelm
Dilthey, Hermeneutics and the Study of History. Trans. Fredric
R. Jameson, Rudolf A. Makkreel; Ed. Rudolf A. Makkreel, Frithjof Rodi.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996, 229-58.
“Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den
Geisteswissenschaften,” GS 7, 79-188; ET: The Construction
of the Historical World in the Geisteswissenschaften. (most important
work of Dilthey's final years.)
“Plan der Fortzsetzung zum Aufbau der geschichtlichen
Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften,” In GS 7, 191-291; ET: Plan
for a Continuation of the Historical World in the Geisteswissenschaften.
(Unfinished notes, unpublished by Dilthey, that demonstrate where
he was heading in his final years.)
GS = Gesammelte Schriften
Introduction to the Human Sciences : An Attempt
to Lay a Foundation for the Study of Society and History. Trans.
by Ramon J. Betanzos.
Selected Works, Volume IV: Hermeneutics and the
Study of History. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel, Frithjof Rodi.
Princeton University Press, 1996.
Selected Works, Volume V: Poetry and Experience.
Edited by Frithjof Rodi, Rudolf A. Makreel.
Introduction to the Human Sciences : Selected
Works of William Dilthey. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel, with
Frithjof Rodi (Contributor).
W. Dilthey: Selected Writings. Edited and
Trans. by H. P. Rickman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Wilhelm Dilthey: Hermeneutics and the Study of
History, Ed. Rudolf A. Makkreel, Frithjof Rodi. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1996.
Bambach, Charles R. Heidegger, Dilthey, and the
Crisis of Historicism : History and Metphysics in Heidegger, Dilthey,
and the Neo-Kantians. Cornell University Press 1995.
Makkreel, Rudolf A. Dilthey: Philosopher of the
Human Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Reprint
Owensby, Jacob. Dilthey and the Narrative of History.
Cornell University Press 1994.
Rickman, H. P. Dilthey Today: A Critical Appraisal
of the Contemporary Relevance of His Work (Contributions in Philosophy).
New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Tuttle, Howard N. The Dawn of Historical Reason:
The Historicality of Human Existence in the Thought of Dilthey, Heidegger
and Ortega Y Gasset. Peter Lang Publishing, 1994.
Dilthey was a Kantian philosopher who made
important contributions to a methodology of historical study. He objected
to the influence of the natural sciences in the humanities, developing
instead a philosophy of history emphasizing historical contingency and
Dilthey was the son of a Reformed Church theologian. After
he completed grammar school in Wiesbaden, he studied theology, first at
Heidelberg, then at Berlin, where he soon transferred to philosophy. He
taught for a time at secondary schools in Berlin but soon abandoned this
to dedicate himself to writing.