Dilthey and Descriptive Psychology

  • Katherine Arens
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 113)


In the early part of the nineteenth century in Germany, the prevailing image of psychology was that of a therapeutic discipline concerned with the spiritual care (Seelensorge)of individuals.1As we have seen in the case of the Empiricists, however, a new question was raised with increasing frequency in the course of the century: the role of psychology as a discipline to guide and support the development of the natural sciences and the humanities. Such a suggestion was taken up with respect to the theory of knowledge and education by Herbart and Avenarius, to the question of language acquisition and change by Wilhelm von Humboldt and the Neogrammarians, and to the pure sciences by Helmholtz and Mach.2


Human Science Spiritual Care Human Consciousness Mental Structure Human Psyche 
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  1. 1.
    For a discussion of the therapeutic psychology of the nineteenth century, see Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1970).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard Avenarius, Kritik der reinen Erfahrung, op. cit.; Johann Gottfried Herbart, Werke, eds. Kehrbach and Flügel (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964), esp. vols. 1 and 2; Wilhelm von Humboldt, “Über die innere und äußere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten in Berlin,” Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 10 (Berlin: 1903–36).Google Scholar
  3. 2a.
    Hermann Paul, Principien der Sprachgeschichte, op. cit.; Ernst Mach, Erkenntnis und Irrtum: Skizzen zu einer Psychologie der Forschung (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1905).Google Scholar
  4. 2b.
    Hermann von Helmholtz, Schriften zur Erkenntnistheorie, eds. Paul Hertz and Moritz Schlick (Berlin: Julius Springer, 1921).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    For the most famous example, see Ernst Mach, Die Analyse der Empfindungen, und das Verhältnis des Physischen zum Psychischen, 2nd ed. (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1900).Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    August Boeckh, Encyklopädie und Methodologie der philologischen Wissenschaften, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1886).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Boeckh: 77: “Wenn wir der Hermeneutik die Aufgabe zugewiesen haben, die Gegenstände an sich zu verstehen … in seiner eigenen Natur zu verstehen …”Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Boeckh: 77: “Die Aufgabe der Kritik ist also nicht, einen Gegenstand an sich, sondern das Verhältnis zwischen mehreren Gegenständen zu verstehen.”Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    For an overview of hermeneutics as a discipline, see Peter Szondi, Einführung in die literarische Hermeneutik (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1975).Google Scholar
  10. 7a.
    and Otto Pöggler, ed., Hermeneutische Philosophie (München: Nymphenburger, 1972).Google Scholar
  11. 7c.
    For an introduction in English, see the introduction to The Hermeneutics Reader, ed. Kurt Mueller-Vollmer (New York: Continuum, 1985).Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    For an overview and bibliography on the work of Wilhelm Dilthey, see Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Towards a Phenomenological Theory of Literature: A Study of Wilhelm Dilthey’s ‘Poetik’ (The Hague: Mouton, 1963).Google Scholar
  13. 8a.
    and Ilse Bulhof, Wilhelm Dilthey: A Hermeneutic Approach to the Study of History and Culture (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980). For comments on the relationship between Dilthey and the psychologists of his age.Google Scholar
  14. 8c.
    see Mitchell G. Ash, “Academic Politics in the History of Science: Experimental Psychology in Germany, 1879–1941,” op. cit.Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    Mitchell G. Ash, especially p. 269 ff., calls this essay “Descriptive and Analytic” psychology. Original German title: Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie [=IP in text], in Gesammelte Schriften, V. Bd. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1924 [1894]); the translations in this essay are by the present author.Google Scholar
  16. 10.
    For an overview of the tenets of associationism as Dilthey would probably have known it, see Max Dessoir, Geschichte der neueren deutschen Psychologie (Berlin: Carl Duncker, 1902): I, 393.Google Scholar
  17. 10c.
    for a discussion of Empiricism, see Dessoir, Outline of the History of Psychology (New York: Macmillan, 1912).Google Scholar
  18. 11.
    In each of these contexts, the structure of the mind has been the focus of explications, and not specifically the interaction of mind and world; in consequence, the conceptualization of ‘world’ operative in each system grants a precedent to the existence of mind structure.Google Scholar
  19. 12.
    Geistesgeschichte is “history of ideas” as practiced by Dilthey and his students, focused around the leading idea of an epoch under consideration.Google Scholar
  20. 13.
    In Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. V (Leipzig: Teubner, 1924 [1895/65]).Google Scholar
  21. 14.
    Jakob Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien 15th ed. (Leipzig: A. Kröner, 1926).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Arens
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Germanic LanguagesUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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