Hermeneutics and the Study of History

By Wilhelm Dilthey; Rudolf A. Makkreel et al. | Go to book overview

4
HISTORY AND SCIENCE (1862),
ON H. T. BUCKLE'S HISTORY OF
CIVILIZATION IN ENGLAND
.
(Trans. by Arnold Ruge, 2 vols.
Leipzig/Heidelberg, 1860–61.)1
TRANSLATED BY RAMON J. BETANZOS

XVI, 100

The human mind has a peculiar need to narrate human deeds and to hear them narrated. Neither art nor science satisfies this need, because neither of these is content with presenting facts simply, just as they happened. Art casts a veil over naked reality, which is supposed to beautify and transfigure it; science looks for a permanent law in the flux of phenomena. That epic human drive for narration, however, does not seek what is beautiful or lawlike; it asks only about what has actually happened, and it often feels itself all the more stimulated the more unusual the narrative material is, that is, the less it wears the appearance of being law-governed. Even before the spirit of inquiry awakens in the child, which leads it to ask for the why and then the why of the why behind every event, another kind of curiosity takes shape, which can be satisfied only by the telling of stories and by the assurance that all these stories are true. And what is true of the individual is true of entire peoples as well. Everywhere the most ancient poetry is epic poetry, and the most ancient prose historical prose. Before scientific or philosophic literature could arise in Greece, not only had Herodotus described the recollections of antiquity and the deeds and customs of foreign nations, but Thucydides also had described the war in which both he and his readers had taken an active part. We find the same relationship repeated in all indigenous literature. The older an individual human being becomes and the more a people progresses in its culture, the more powerful the interest in science relative to history, and the more energetic the cultivation of mathematics, natural sciences, politics, and economics relative to history. But historical interest is never completely suppressed; there are always people ready to carry on and advance the [work of] history, which in turn benefits all other branches of knowledge. The histories of all lands and

____________________
1
This review-essay first appeared anonymously in the Berliner Allgemeine Zeitung, May 29, 1862. Reprinted in GS XVI, 100–106. Pagination in the margins refers to GS XVI.

-261-

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