Dilthey's Significance for Hermeneutics

Wilhelm Dilthey had a strong lifelong interest in hermeneutics, or the theory and methodology of interpretation. But wherein does his real significance for the discipline lie? This article argues that it is not to be found where later philosophers such as Heidegger, Gadamer, and Habermas have located it, namely in the more ahistorical, anti-positivistic, and relativistic strands of his position. Nor does it lie in certain other areas of his thought where one might have expected to find it: in particular, his interpretation of Schleiermacher's hermeneutics or his own hermeneutic methodology. Instead, it mainly lies in the following areas: his general history of hermeneutics; his broad definition of the discipline's range of application; above all, his implicit conception of the discipline's subject matter, understanding, as potentially a scientific achievement; and two further conceptions intimately connected to that one, namely his conception of the fundamental importance of understanding and hermeneutics for the human sciences, together with his conception of the epistemic status of the human sciences as genuine sciences.

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