Wilhelm Dilthey's Analysis

1582 Words 7 Pages
Wilhelm Dilthey writes in response to what he observes to be a state of disarray and uncertainty regarding the nature of the human sciences, and the tendencies to subsume it within the larger framework of the natural sciences. In his Introduction to the Human Sciences, he explicates the distinction between the natural and the human sciences with the objective to establish, for the latter, a theoretical and methodological foundation that is independent from the natural sciences. To do this, he identifies the distinction between the natural and human sciences to rest primarily upon the objectives of the two sciences. While the natural sciences seek to discover the causal and universal laws of the natural world, it is the task of the human sciences …show more content…
Therefore, because the objects of knowledge of the natural and human sciences are different, the methodology must be different as well. The natural sciences aim at discovering the mechanics and causal laws of nature as an insentient apparatus that works, as Descartes had established centuries prior, like a machine. Dilthey explains the natural scientific method as being an empirical and experimental approach to understanding material bodies, the relationships between them, and the constitutions of matter. Abstraction, then, is essential to the aim of the natural sciences. By abstraction, particular phenomena are universalized. For example, observing the fall of an apple – a particular phenomenon – is used to explain the universal law of gravity. Likewise, the study of the human being in the natural sciences uses terms of abstractions – not of particulars - in reference to the existing individual. For example, the abstraction of the “I” in Descartes’ metaphysics, or the “knowing subject” of other epistemological and metaphysical theories does not correspond to any real, living human being, but rather, to human beings in general. This is to say that the natural scientist is not ultimately interested in particular phenomenon for its own sake; rather, particulars are relevant in so far as they contribute to the establishing of …show more content…
Dilthey writes that if we understood “all changes in the physical world as reducible to the motion of atoms ... the whole world could thus be known by means of the natural sciences." This is to say that if the inner workings of the human being were mechanical and causal like the workings of nature, then the method of the natural sciences would, indeed, apply to the human sciences. However, because we are necessarily distinct from nature, this method cannot apply. Further, the human sciences resist the natural sciences’ method of abstraction. Since the object of knowledge lies in understanding particular human beings and particular expressions and phenomena, such abstractions prove to be futile and “lifeless”. Therefore, the project of the human sciences in studying the human beings requires its own, distinct methodology, which studies human beings as creatures of meaning. While the natural sciences, as explained, approaches its study the natural world in order to systematize it and formulate causal laws, the human sciences seek to understand human phenomena as expressions of inner life. This is done through hermeneutics, or the method of interpretation. Interpretation is used to understand human phenomena such as historical events, literary works, works of art, and cultures. Interpretation involves the study of what Dilthey calls “facts of consciousness”, or

Related Documents