Wilhelm Dilthey

What man is, only his history tells.


Wilhelm Dilthey (1833 - 1911) was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist, student of Hermeneutics, and philosopher, who made important contributions to a methodology of human science.

His idea of Erlibnis (Inner or Lived Experience) became the concept of the Vivencia (see also The Vivencia).


  • Founder of philosophical Hermeneutics,
  • Erlibnis - literally "what has been lived through" - Lived Experience,
  • Verstehen - literally "understanding",
  • The concepts of Erlebnis and Verstehen played a crucial role in Dilthey's endeavors to liberate the methodology of human science from that of natural science.
  • He opposed the idea that the human science should emulate the methodology of the natural science, and tried to establish the humanities as sciences in their own right.
  • He aimed to find the philosophical foundations for human science - history, philosophy, religion, psychology, art, literature, law, politics and economics.
  • The purpose of human science is not necessarily to explain human behavior, but to understand it.


Hermeneutics can be thought of as the art of interpretation:

  • The ability to understand things from somebody else's point of view,
  • To appreciate the cultural and social forces that may have influenced their outlook,
  • Applying this understanding to interpreting the meaning of written texts and symbolic artifacts.

Erlebnis (Lived Experience)

Erlebnis is connected with the process of self-understanding:

  • By itself, Erlebnis does not provide self-understanding,
  • The world is not simply observed - our relationship to the world and its meaning is socially mediated,
  • Social phenomenon must be understood as they are experienced or made meaningful by human beings within specific social contexts,
  • Self-understanding is only obtained when the self relates to itself as it relates to others,
  • Even so Erlebnis remains the psychological source the experiential potential that is articulated and conceptualized in understanding.

Verstehen (Understanding)

Verstehen is connected with our understanding of others:

  • Understanding requires not just rationality, but also intuition, creativity, and imagination,
  • Consciousness plays an active role in understanding - humans are active meaning makers,
  • Humans have the ability to re-live the experience of another through socio-historical analysis and through the use of imagination,
  • Others can only be understood by imagining oneself in their position, although this imagining always takes place within the limits set by one's own time and culture,
  • This can be contrasted with the external objectification third-person perspective of explanation in natural science and of social structures in sociology.