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Wilhelm Dilthey on Life - Dictionary of Arguments

Gadamer I 71
Life/Dilthey/Gadamer: The meanings that we encounter in the humanities - as strange and incomprehensible to us as they may be - can be traced back to the last units of what is given in consciousness, which themselves no longer contain anything foreign, objective or in need of interpretation. They are the units of experience, which are themselves units of meaning.
Gadamer: This is how a concept of life emerges in the epistemology of the humanities,
which restricts the mechanistic model. This concept of life is conceived teleological:
Dilthey: for him, life is productivity par excellence. As life objectifies itself in sense formations, all understanding of sense is "a retranslation of the objectivations of
life into the spiritual vitality from which they have emerged". Thus the concept of experience forms the epistemological basis for all knowledge of the objective. >Experience/Dilthey, >Experience/Gadamer, >Experience/Husserl.
Gadamer I 232
Life/Dilthey/Gadamer: As is well known, [Dilthey] speaks of the "thought-forming work of life"(1). What distinguishes this phrase from Hegel is not easy to say. Life, however much it may show an "unfathomable face"(2), Dilthey may mock the all too friendly view of life, which sees in it only progress of culture - as long as it is understood in terms of the thoughts it forms, it is subjected to a teleological interpretation scheme and is conceived as a spirit.
Spirit/Hegel/Dilthey: It is true that Dilthey in his later years leaned more and more about Hegel and talked about spirit where he used to say "life". He is just repeating a conceptual development that Hegel himself had also taken. In the light of this fact that we owe Dilthey the knowledge of the so-called "theological" youth writings of Hegel seems remarkable. In these materials on the history of the development of Hegelian thought, it becomes quite clear that the Hegelian concept of the spirit is based on a pneumatic concept of life.(3)
Dilthey himself has tried to account for what connects him to Hegel and what separates him from Hegel(4). But what does his criticism of Hegel's belief in reason say, of his speculative construction of world history, of his aprioristic derivation of all concepts from the dialectical self-development of the absolute, when he too gives the concept of the "objective mind" such a central position?
DiltheyVsHegel: (...) Dilthey turns against the ideal construction of this Hegelian term. "Today we must start from the reality of life". He writes: "We seek to understand it and to present it in adequate terms. By thus separating the objective spirit from the one-sided reasoning in the general reason that expresses the essence of the world spirit, and also from the idealistic construction, a new concept of the same becomes possible. There are several things included in it: language, custom, every kind of way of life, every style of life, as well as family, civil society, state and
Gadamer I 233
right. And now also that which Hegel distinguished as the absolute spirit from the objective one - art and religion and philosophy - falls under this term.(5) >Spirit/Dilthey, >Comparison/Dilthey.
Gadamer I 239
Understanding/Historical Consciousness/Dilthey/Gadamer: Dilthey starts from life. Life itself is designed for contemplation. [Dilthey's life philosophical tendency] (...) is based on that very thing, that in life itself there is knowledge. >Lebensphilosophie/Dilthey.
Already the inner being, which characterizes the experience, contains a kind of turning back of life to itself. "Knowledge is there, it is connected with experience without reflection" (V Il, 18).
But the same immanent reflexivity of life also determines the way in which, according to Dilthey, meaning is absorbed in the context of life. For meaning is only experienced by stepping out of the "hunt for goals". >Meaning/Dilthey.
It is a distance, a distance from the context of our own actions that makes such reflection possible.
Gadamer I 240
In both directions, contemplation and practical contemplation, the same tendency of life, a striving for firmness(6), shows itself according to Dilthey. From there it is understood that he could consider the objectivity of scientific knowledge and philosophical self-reflection as the completion of the natural tendency of life.


1. Dilthey, Ges. Schriften Vll, 136.
2. Ges. Schriften Vlll, 224.
3. Dilthey's fundamental treatise: "Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels", first published in 1906 and multiplied in the 4th volume of the Collected Writings (1921) by estate manuscripts, opened a new epoch of Hegel studies, less by its results than by its task. It was soon (1911) accompanied by the publication of the "Theologische Jugendschriften" by Hermann Nohl, which were opened up by the vivid commentary of Theodor Haering (Hegel 1928). Cf. from the author: "Hegel und der geschichtliche Geist" and Hegels Dialektik IGes. Werke Bd. 31 and Herbert Marcuse, Hegels Ontologie und die Grundlegung einer Theorie der Geschichtlichkeit, 1932, who proved the model-forming function of the concept of life for the "Phenomenology of the Spirit".
4. in detail in the records of the bequests on the "youth history of Hegel" (IV, 217-258), more deeply in the 3rd chapter of the "Aufbau" (146ff.).
5. Dilthey, Ges. Schr. Vll, 150.
6. Ges. Schriften Vll, 347.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Dilth I
W. Dilthey
Gesammelte Schriften, Bd.1, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften Göttingen 1990

Gadamer I
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik 7. durchgesehene Auflage Tübingen 1960/2010

Gadamer II
H. G. Gadamer
The Relevance of the Beautiful, London 1986
German Edition:
Die Aktualität des Schönen: Kunst als Spiel, Symbol und Fest Stuttgart 1977


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-12-09
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