Hermeneutics and the Study of History

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

8
REMINISCENCES ON HISTORICAL
STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY
OF BERLIN (1903)1
TRANSLATED BY PATRICIA VAN TUYL

V, 7

When I came to Berlin in the early fifties of the last century, a great movement was at its zenith—the movement in which the definitive constitution of history as a science and, facilitated by this, of the human sciences in general, was achieved. How long ago that was and how few among us witnessed it! The seventeenth century had produced mathematical natural science in an unrivaled collaboration of the civilized nations of the time. But the constitution of history as a science started with the Germans. It had its center here in Berlin, and I had the inestimable fortune to live and to study here during that period. And when I ponder its point of origin, I think of the great objectifications produced by the historical process—the purposive systems of culture, nations, and finally humanity itself. I think of how these objectifications develop and fulfil themselves according to an inner law; how these then operate as organic forces and how history arises from the power struggles of nations. Infinite consequences follow from this. I would like to call them collectively “historical consciousness. ”

Culture is, in the first place, the weaving together of purposive systems. Each of these—like language, law, myth and religion, poetry, philosophy—possesses an inner lawfulness that conditions its structure, which in turn determines its development. The historical character of culture was first grasped at that time. This was the achievement of Hegel and Schleiermacher: They permeated the abstract systematic structure of culture with the consciousness of its essential historicity. The comparative method and the developmental-historical approach were applied to culture. What a circle of men were at work here!: Humboldt, Savigny, and Grimm. I recall the distinguished figure of the aged Bopp, the founder of comparative linguistics. But the strongest memory for me here is of my

____________________
1
This is a talk Dilthey gave to friends and students on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, November 19, 1903. It was published in the Berlin newspaper, the Tägliche Rundschau, of November 22, 1903, on the basis of Dilthey's own notes, and then reprinted in GS V, 7–9.

-387-

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