Interpreting Practice: Dilthey, Epistemology, and the Hermeneutics of Historical Life

Idealistic Studies 38 (1-2):105-122 (2008)
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This paper explores Dilthey’s radical transformation of epistemology and the human sciences through his projects of a critique of historically embodied reason and his hermeneutics of historically mediated life. Answering criticisms that Dilthey overly depends on epistemology, I show how for Dilthey neither philosophy nor the human sciences should be reduced to their theoretical, epistemological, or cognitive dimensions. Dilthey approaches both immediate knowing and theoretical knowledge in the context of a hermeneutical phenomenology of historical life. Knowing is not an isolated activity but an interpretive and self-interpretive practice oriented by situated reflexive awareness and self-reflection. As embedded in an historical relational context, knowing does not only consist of epistemic validity claims about representational contents but is fundamentally practical, involving all of human existence. Empirically informed Besinnung, with its double reference to sense as meaning and bodily awareness, orients Dilthey’s inquiry rather than the “irrationalism” of immediate intuition or the “rationalism” of abstract epistemological reasoning.
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