Hermeneutics and the Study of History

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

2
ON UNDERSTANDING AND
HERMENEUTICS: STUDENT LECTURE
NOTES (1867–68)1
TRANSLATED BY RUDOLF A. MAKKREEL

XX, 100

[…] We want to understand human beings. Regarding all other objects there is an interest to explain; regarding human beings, an interest to understand. With other objects I seek explanations, which do not give me an inherent likeness of things. We do not understand the processes of nature. We are aware of the effects of a [physical] force, but the nature of its agency we do not know. It is different in the domain of the moral world. Here I understand everything. What does it mean to understand something? Let us ask, What does it mean when I do not understand myself? I have a deep aversion for someone. I am familiar with the phenomenon of aversion, but I cannot re-create its cause. This is even more clear when I consider the past. I cannot re-create the motives of my past actions. When I do not understand someone else, I cannot relive the state of the other in myself. Thus all understanding involves a re-creation in my psyche. Where is this human capacity of re-creation to be located? Not in the capacity for abstract thought, but in an imaginative process. Scientific operations have their basis in the creative imagination. Imagination is an intuitive process in which I add to intuitive moments that are given some that are not. The intensity of the human imagination will differ. The power to complete what is given varies greatly in different people; even for the same person it will vary in different circumstances. The imagination is limited to a certain sphere. It is an illusion to think that nothing human is alien to me.

Let us apply this to literature. The poetic capacity must contain a sympathy with everything human. This sympathy is also essential for the historian. Reconstruction is a moment in the poetic capacity. The greater the range of what he can re-create, the greater is the poet. In this regard Shakespeare is the greatest writer. But even the

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1
This is a translation of parts of one of Dilthey's Basel lectures entitled “Die Intuition” from his course “Logik und System der philosophischen Wissenschaften” given in 1867–68, first published in GS XX, 98–110. Because Dilthey's own lecture notes are no longer available, student notes were used.

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