'Hypotheses, everywhere only hypotheses!': on some contexts of Dilthey's critique of explanatory psychology


In 1894, Wilhelm Dilthey published an article in which he formulated a critique of what he called ‘explanatory psychology’, contrasting it with his own conception of ‘descriptive psychology’. Dilthey’s descriptive psychology, in turn, was to provide the basis for Dilthey’s specific philosophy of the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). In this paper, I contextualize Dilthey’s critique of explanatory psychology. I show that while this critique comes across as very broad and sweeping, he in fact had specific opponents in mind, namely, scholars who, like him, attempted to theorize about the relationship between the individual and society, between psychology and the other human sciences. Dilthey’s critique of explanatory psychology is the flipside of his critique of sociology, which he had already formulated. He challenged both because he felt that they gave the wrong kind of answer to the task of overcoming metaphysics within the human sciences. In particular, I identify the founders of Völkerpsychologie, Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinhal, and (more importantly) their student, Georg Simmel, as Dilthey’s targets. I provide textual and historical evidence for this thesis.

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Uljana Feest
Universität Hannover

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Neo-Kantianism and the Roots of Anti-Psychologism.R. Lanier Anderson - 2005 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 13 (2):287-323.
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Citations of this work

Defining Human Sciences: Theodor Waitz’s Influence on Dilthey.Riccardo Martinelli - 2018 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (3):498-518.
Dilthey on the Unity of Science.Nabeel Hamid - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24 (4):635-656.
Koffka, Köhler, and the “Crisis” in Psychology.Gary Hatfield - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (2):483-492.
Law and Structure in Dilthey’s Philosophy of History.Nabeel Hamid - 2021 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 29 (4):633-651.

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