Understanding, Psychology, and the Human Sciences: Dilthey and Völkerpsychologie

In Adam Tamas Tuboly (ed.), The history of understanding in analytic philosophy: around logical empiricism. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 39-62 (2022)
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The framework of the modern Western analysis of culture, in terms of the socio-historical situation of the subject and the reciprocal influence of one on the other, has its roots in nineteenth century discussions. This paper will examine two traditions: the hermeneutic approach of Wilhelm Dilthey, and the Völkerpsychologie of Moses Lazarus and Chajim Steinthal. The account will focus on two elements. First, Lazarus and Steinthal attempted to motivate an account based on collective structures, or forms, of rationality made manifest by a people or Volk; the paper will explore their account of how collective structures can be employed in sociohistorical analysis. Second, Dilthey rejected Lazarus’s and Steinthal’s argument that it was possible to identify the norms of action governing social phenomena. Dilthey rejected any account of psychology that took it to be law-governed, even retrospectively, because he argued that the ‘nexus of life’ that is the ultimate basis of the human sciences cannot be reduced to any law-governed or explanatory relationship between the self, society, and nature. However, there is a deep tension in Dilthey’s position here, which is evident in the development of his work over time. The account below will explore this tension and its significance for the understanding of the subject and the role of psychology in the human sciences.



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Lydia Patton
Virginia Tech

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The German historicist tradition.Frederick C. Beiser - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.
From Völkerpsychologie to the Sociology of Knowledge.Martin Kusch - 2019 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 9 (2):250-274.
Marburg Neo-Kantianism as Philosophy of Culture.Samantha Matherne - 2015 - In J. Tyler Friedman & Sebastian Luft (eds.), The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer: A Novel Assessment. Boston: De Gruyter. pp. 201-232.

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