Who Is Wilhelm Dilthey?

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Who is Wilhelm Dilthey? Information on Wilhelm Dilthey biography, life story, works and philosophy.

Wilhelm DiltheyWilhelm Dilthey; (1833-1911), German philosopher, who held that philosophy, “the critique of historical reason,” should study human life as expressed in history. He had great influence on theology, sociology, existentialism, and education.

Dilthey was born in Biebrich on Nov. 19, 1833. After studies at Heidelberg and Berlin, he taught philosophy at the universities of Basel, Kiel, Breslau, and Berlin. His many works include Introduction to the Human Studies (1883) and The Essence of Philosophy (1907; Eng. tr., 1954). He died in Seis on Oct. 1, 1911.

To prevent the reduction of ali learning to a description of physical phenomena, as contemporary positivism proposed, Dilthey distinguished between objective natural sciences and subjective human studies (Geisteswissenschaften). The human studies, including economics, law, politics, art, religion, psychology, history, and philosophy, focus on life, or human meaning, and involve freedom, intentions, and institutions as they concern all “humanity, or human-social-historical reality.” Such studies require the correlation of three elements: the “lived experience” of the student himself, a distinctive attitude of “understanding” (Verstehen), and the “expression” of the human spirit—the ideas, or intended personal and social meaning—in the words, gestures, works of art, and institutions of man’s history. Dilthey’s method of study took the historicist approach that any such expression must be seen in historical context. In opposition, however, to the skepticism of universal values that such a relativist view might entail, he found in the flow of life through various periods or cultures some recurrent structural forms, or categories, including being, cause, value, and purpose. Each period or culture achieves a comprehensive world view (Weltanschauung) in terms of these categories.

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