Hermeneutics and the Study of History

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

3
THE RISE OF HERMENEUTICS (1900)1
TRANSLATED BY FREDRIC R. JAMESON
AND RUDOLF A. MAKKREEL

V, 317

In an earlier essay2 I have discussed the representation of individuation in art and particularly in poetry. We have now to deal with the problem of the scientific knowledge of individuals and indeed the main forms of singular human existence in general. Is such knowledge possible, and what means are at our disposal to attain it?

It is a problem of the greatest significance. Action everywhere presupposes the understanding of other persons; much of our happiness as human beings derives from being able to feel the states of mind of others; the entire science of philology and of history is based on the presupposition that such reunderstanding of what is singular can be raised to objectivity. The historical consciousness developed on this basis has enabled modern man to hold the entire past of humanity present within himself: Beyond the limits of his own time he peers into past cultures, appropriating their energies and taking pleasure in their charm, with a consequent increase in his own happiness. And when the systematic human sciences go on to derive more general lawful relations and more inclusive connections from this objective apprehension of what is singular, the processes of understanding and interpretation still remain basic. Thus, these disciplines, like history itself, depend for their methodological certainty upon whether the understanding of what is singular may be raised to the level of universal validity. So at the threshold of the human sciences we encounter a problem specific to them alone and quite distinct from all conceptual knowledge of nature.

Human sciences have indeed the advantage over the natural sciences that their object is not sensory appearance as such, no mere

____________________
1
This essay was first published in the Festschrift: Philosophische Abhandlungen, Christoph Sigwart zu seinen 70. Geburtstag 28 März 1900 gewidmet (Tübingen, 1900), pp. 185–202. Reprinted in Dilthey, GS, V, 317–38. Pagination in the margins refers to GS V. This is a revised and expanded version of a translation by Fredric Jameson originally published in New Literary History, volume 3, no. 2, 1972, 229– 44.
2
“Die Kunst als erste Darstellung der menschlichgeschichtlichen Welt in ihrer Individuation, ” in “Beiträge zum Studium der Individualität (1895–96), ” GS V, 273–303. See also SW 2.

-235-

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