Sunday, 2 July 2017

Wilhelm Dilthey's Hegel-scholarship

Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911)
This post comments on and summarizes the illuminating introduction to Hegel-scholar Wilhelm Dilthey's path-breaking book Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels [The History of Hegel’s Youth] (1905) in the French translation by Jean-Christophe Merle.

Introduction (Stephen Cowley)

Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) is the last of three major early biographical interpreters of Hegel. We have already studied the first two, Karl Rosenkranz and Rudolf Haym, on this blog. I am impressed by the concentrated energy of Dilthey's work. His main work on Hegel was Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels [The History of Hegel’s Youth] (1905), the fruit of a lifetime’s study of German intellectual history. Dilthey also played a key role in arranging publication by the Prussian Academy of Sciences of Hegels Theologische Jugendschriften by Hermann Nohl in 1907 and was behind the Academy’s support for earlier work done on Hegel's manuscripts in 1900 and 1905. Dilthey’s book is an independent interpretation of these manuscripts prior to their publication. 

Dilthey studied philosophy, theology and history and taught at Basel, Kiel, Breslau and Berlin. He is best known for his distinction of hermeneutic understanding (of the human world and the signs by which it expresses purpose) from mechanical or causal explanations (of nature) and for his theory of visions of the world (Weltanschauungen). The first distinction is subjective as it shies away from the theistic metaphysical presuppositions or implications of interpreting the universe as purposive, but perhaps partly for this reason it has been influential. It is a version of Aristotle’s distinction of efficient and final causation. The theory of visions of the world is particularly relevant to Dilthey's interpretation of Hegel, as he sees Hegel’s later published writings as products of a prior vision of the world tinged by pantheism whose development he reconstructs from manuscript material.

Original copies of Dilthey’s book on Hegel are rare, but it is included in Volume 4 of Dilthey’s Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Writings] (26 volumes). The last six volumes of the German edition are lectures notes and letters and many of the others are book reviews or unpublished essays. There is some further material by Dilthey on Hegel in Volume 4 of the German Works. Dilthey also wrote reviews of an edition of Hegel’s Letters [that of Karl Hegel] and of Kuno Fischer’s Hegels Leben, Werke und Lehre [Hegel’s Life, Works and Theory] (1901). There is a six volume English selection of Dilthey’s writings by Princeton University Press and a projected seven volume French version by Cerf of Paris of which however only five volumes seem yet to have been published. Both sets of translations focus on the early volumes of the collected works. There are independent translations of Dilthey's Introduction to the Humanities. His extensive writings on the theologian Schleiermacher are underrepresented in translation. 

The French translation of the book on Hegel is in Dilthey's Oeuvres, Volume 5: Leibniz et Hegel (ed. Jean-Christophe Merle. Paris: Cerf, 2002). I found Merle's introductory essay particularly informative for relating Dilthey and Hegel. The volume from which it is taken also contains Dilthey's essay Leibniz und seine Zeitalter [Leibniz and his Age]. This, along with the interest in German thought that Dilthey shared with Haym, explains the prominence of Leibniz in what follows. Haym and Dilthey corresponded and knew each other well. 

The idea of studying the early manuscripts as a key to Hegel’s thought is found in Rudolf Haym’s Hegel and his Time (1857), but was taken to new heights by Wilhelm Dilthey. At the start of Hegel and Schelling's Critical Journal, it is written: 
“The same [way] as the idea of a fine art does not owe its birth or discovery to artistic criticism, but is quite simply presupposed, so in philosophical criticism, the idea of philosophy is itself the condition and presupposition without which the latter would only until the end of time have subjectivities to oppose to subjectivities, and not the absolute to the conditioned.” 
It is the origins of this presupposition that Dilthey illuminates. In terms of reception, Alexandre Koyré wrote in his essay “Hegel à Iéna” (1934, in Études historiques, 1961) of: 
“the deep impression produced by Dilthey’s famous memoir and the publication by H Nohl of Hegel’s Early Theological Writings. At last we had the pre-history of Hegelian thought; at last one could grasp it in statu nascendi and not in that discouragingly complete state in which it was presented until then. It was besides a quite new, pretty unexpected Hegel that the Early Writings showed us. Hegelian exegesis was completely turned upside down.” (149) 
Paul Asveld later echoed this account of Dilthey's influence. In 1920, Franz Rosenzweig had seen an "entirely new" (and less political) Hegel in Dilthey's work (Hegel und der Staat [Hegel and the State], Suhrkamp 2010, 17). Koyré went on to note the inherent risk of misinterpreting the mature Hegel: 
“More exactly: the fact of putting the stress on the youthful work already implies, ipso facto, a disesteem for and neglect of the Logic, which also means: neglect and disesteem of Hegel the philosopher, and even of philosophy as such. [This is an] effect of the substitution – the merit and crime of the Diltheyan school – of the “history of ideas” for that of philosophy; of the absorption of philosophy by literature.” (151)  
He adds in a note that: 
“the Diltheyans have been only the most subtle and brilliant of those who have given themselves to this sort of subversion of the proper values of philosophy and thought. As if a “work” worthy of the name could be explained by the man.” (151n)  
I think this latter criticism of Dilthey is basically correct, though perhaps in a lesser degree than is generally assumed. In the later history of the book's reception, Bertrand Russell’s description of Hegel as “much attracted to mysticism” in his youth (History of Western Philosophy, 1946, 757) probably owes something to Dilthey. Subsequently, Walter Kaufmann drew on Dilthey in Hegel: a Reinterpretation (1965), an influential book in English-speaking philosophy's re-engagement with Hegel.  

Dilthey was criticized by Georg Lukács in The Young Hegel (1948), who interpreted Hegel’s theory of religious positivity as an early theory of social alienation. Lukács was then himself criticized for idealism by East German philosopher Gottfried Stiehler in Die Dialektik in Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes (1964). Lukács and Herbert Marcuse also had opposed views (see below). Lukács’s The Destruction of Reason (1962, English, 1980) is also relevant.  

Jean-Christophe Merle, who I follow here, is the author of German Idealism and the Concept of Punishment (German, 2007, English, 2009) and Justice et Progrès [Justice and Progress] (French, 1997). He also contributed an essay to the recent Cambridge Companion to Fichte (2016). 

It might be worth noting that “pantheism” derives its meaning from Spinoza and the late 18th century German Pantheismusstreit [pantheism quarrel] over the interpretation of Spinoza’s philosophy. In what follows I translate Weltanschauung as “world view” or “vision of the world”. My view is that the latter term broadened in meaning even in Dilthey's work more than Merle recognizes. After the introduction, there follow sections on:
  • The Rationale of Philosophical Biography
  • The Reception of "The History of Hegel's Youth"
  • World Views and Religion
  • Leibniz and Hegel in the Typology of World Views
  • Hegel, Mystical Pantheism and the Logicisation of History
  • The Sense of the Concrete and individuality
  • The German Spirit
  • A History of Philosophies at the Limits of Philosophy
Page references are to the French edition.

Further reading:
Asveld, Paul. La Pensée religieuse du jeune Hegel [The religious thought of the young Hegel] (1953).
Konigson-Montain, Marie-Jeanne. «Dilthey lecteur de Hegel» [Dilthey reader of Hegel] in Autour de Hegel [Around Hegel] (Eds. Dagognet & Osmo. 2000)
Makkreel, Rudolf. Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies (1975).
Mesure, Sylvie. Dilthey et la Fondation des sciences historiques [Dilthey and the Foundation of the Historical Sciences] (1990).
Peperzak, Adrien. Le jeune Hegel et la vision religieuse du monde [The young Hegel and the religious vision of the world] (1960).

Jean-Christophe Merle on Dilthey’s Hegel Scholarship


Walter Kaufmann comments that it was Wilhelm Dilthey who first taught us that Hegel also was once young, when he cites Hegel’s nickname the “old man” at Tübingen (see Kaufmann “Hegel’s early Theological Phase”, Philosophical Review, 1954). Paul Tillich says of Hegel that “a hidden fire burned in him until his old age” (Vorlesungen über Hegel 1931/32 [Lectures on Hegel 1931/32] (1965). The same relation of youth and age characterizes Dilthey’s account of Leibniz. Dilthey’s book has a rare reputation, as biography is rarely a key interest of philosophers.

Let us look at the role of the two biographies [of Leibniz and Hegel] in Dilthey’s intellectual project as a whole. Their immediate causes were the bicentenary of the founding of the Berlin Academy by Leibniz and the presence in its archives of Hegel’s Nachlaß (literary remains). Dilthey had been taught philosophy there by Trendelenburg, a critic of Hegel. Harnack had published a history of the Academy. Dilthey borrowed from this, as he did with his writings that cover later periods of the Academy, i.e. the periods of Frederick the Great, Schleiermacher, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Niebuhr. 

The Rationale of Philosophical Biography

For Dilthey, biography aims at more than a mere psychological portrait. In 1889, he proposed the establishment of public archives for the manuscripts of writers and philosophers to facilitate the work of biographers (See “Archiv der Literatur” in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 1889). He described the background to his proposal: 
“[A] universal history of philosophy developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, beginning from the works of the humanist era. [At this time,] the history of the different philosophical disciplines and [] sciences that Aristotle and his school founded and the presentation of opinions were drawn entirely from works written [] for the sake of presentations of the life and doctrines of the different philosophers, of the system[s] taught by the different schools and the relation of such biographies to a whole.” (10) 
The life and works of philosophers should be considered together, he thought. He evokes Diogenes Laertius, Pierre Bayle and Jacob Thomasius as instances of this. Dilthey continues that: “scientific history only appeared when, in the second half of the eighteenth century, two new aspects burst forth in this field of history.” (10) These were German philology, which learned to analyse a piece of writing according to its origin, intention and composition, and secondly the idea of development, that is, of progress and continuity combined, between eras, minds and literary works. He sees this as in contrast to Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes and Locke, who supposedly lacked it. Leibniz and Hegel did not follow this path, according to Dilthey. [It is certainly noteworthy that Leibniz borrowed from the scholastic tradition, rather than advocating a break with it. – SC] This indicates why Dilthey chose these two figures for his philosophical biographies. In them the ancient world and Christianity were melded together with the modern “mechanical vision of the world (Weltanschauung)”. These biographies appeared long after his youthful work on Schleiermacher. He wrote in Leibniz and his Age:
“The history of the development of the great philosophers, undertaken with the means of philological criticism, has become everywhere the support of philosophical thought as a whole. Thus, the original limitation of the history of philosophy is progressively abandoned; the history of philosophy ceases to be only the history of the great philosophers.” (10-11)
Thus other figures, such as Lessing, are introduced into his narrative. Biography becomes a mere preliminary work. Dilthey feels a need to place this matter “in a deeper relation to our historical consciousness”. (11) He finds a predecessor in Diogenes Laertius. Philosophical systems are born as part of cultural wholes, with which they interact. Thus, these writings on Leibniz and Hegel were to be part of a “history of the German spirit” from the Middle Ages to Dilthey’s own day. [This was also a project of Dilthey’s friend Rudolf Haym. – SC]

Dilthey’s methodological premisses are individualist. He starts from the “elementary particles” of history – the significant individual person. He studies firstly, their conditions of life, the state of knowledge and the means of action open to them; then their dominant instincts, feelings and mental states; and lastly the values that develop from the second in relation to the first. The individual thinker is not just a datum, but the fruit of their character under the “influence of metaphysics and, more broadly, under that of metaphysical science” (11), or what Dilthey calls Weltanschauung (vision of the world).

There is “a psychological starting-point”, but little psychological content in these two essays. Hegel has a sense for the concrete; he is reserved and leans towards theory. He did not allow his personal life to be affected by the emotional sway of the romantic era, as did many of his friends. He is “modest, serious and filled with the spirit of the old Protestantism”. (12) His sense for the concrete is “Swabian” (by which Dilthey refers to his early education, says Merle). Merle refers to F Rodl’s “Die Romantiker in der Sicht Hegels, Hayms und Diltheys” [The Romantics in Hegel’s, Haym’s and Dilthey’s view] in Hegel-Studien, 1983, for more on this subject.

Dilthey said that: “philosophical systems are born of the whole that culture forms and interact with this whole.” (12) He did not study the biographies of philosophers simply to establish a history of these systems, but rather had in mind the history of culture. He thought that the core of a person:
“develops under the influence of metaphysics and, more broadly, under that of metaphysical science. Thus, the great transformations that survive in the feeling of life that men have are represented in the transformations of philosophy. The history of philosophy makes visible the successive positions of the psychic life of men. It gives the possibility of knowing the historical situation of the different phenomena of literature, theology and the sciences.” (12)
The reception of these two essays [on Leibniz and Hegel] by philosophers has often neglected the fact that Dilthey’s interest is not primarily philosophical. This in turn has led to much misunderstanding. We will discuss this reception further and then look at the object, method and the true significance of these two essays.

The Reception of “The History of Hegel’s Youth”

Hegel interpreters agree that Dilthey drew attention to Hegel’s early manuscripts and that a reliable transcription of them was thus provided. Rosenkranz and Haym had given extracts, but Dilthey changed the situation through three philological achievements.

First, he complained about Rosenkranz and Haym’s dating of manuscripts. They disagreed with each other and did not explain their method. Dilthey considered both content and the handwriting. 
On this, see:
  • Wilhelm Dilthey – Das Hegel-Buch Kuno Fischers
  • Gisela Schüler – “Zur Chronologie von Hegels Jugendschriften” in Hegel-Studien, 1963.
  • Hermann Nohl - Hegels Theologische Jugendschriften. 1907 and “Vorwort” to Dilthey’s Werke IV.
Merle recommends the table of manuscripts by Schüler [For English readers, H.S. Harris’s Hegel’s Development may be relevant. - SC]

Second, he instigated Nohl’s edition of the manuscripts (see above). Rosenkranz had borrowed some manuscripts and not returned them. The material comprised a whole, unlike the scattered manuscripts of Kant then being published. Other Hegel manuscripts were published by Lasson, Hoffmeister and others. See in particular: Georg Lasson – Hegels Schriften zur Politik und Rechtsphilosophie (1913) and Johannes Hoffmeister – Dokumente zu Hegels Entwicklung (1936).

Third, he distinguished steps in Hegel’s development. He established an idea of the whole of Hegel’s ideas at each of these stages. This was distinct from the mere succession of places where Hegel stayed.

Dilthey’s work originally appeared in Abhandlungen der königlichen-preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften [Papers of the Royal-Prussian Academy of Sciences] (1905) [These seem to be rare. – SC] Dilthey wrote in the original Preface:
“If the reader, in Rosenkranz or Haym, falls on something more substantial [that he] has not used, the reason lies partly in the fact that this something does not belong to the stages of Hegel’s development presented, and partly simply in the fact that the means to integrate such fragments of which the manuscript is missing in a trustworthy manner, are absent.” (14)
Dating of texts then was a mere preliminary for Dilthey. He has even “given up trying for more precise dating within these different stages.”. He has only: “supplied a more certain basis on which others can now continue to build.” (14) There are “some lines that lead to later stages” than the period studied in History of Hegel’s Youth (hereafter, “History”). The History has a thesis on Hegel’s development and the nature of his thought. Merle comments:
“Since Dilthey sketches in it the lines that lead to the later system, the significance of this thesis goes beyond the young Hegel to take up a position on Hegel’s philosophy as a whole. By the importance given to the exposition of the philosophical context in which Hegel’s development took place, the History of Hegel’s Youth constitutes the establishment of a position on the whole of German idealism and on the Enlightenment that preceded it.” (14)
Hence Merle has not translated Nohl’s additions [from Dilthey’s manuscripts] in Dilthey’s Werke IV. These were besides edited by Nohl to an unknown degree. See: “Fragmente aus Diltheys Hegelwerk” in Hegel-Studien, 1961; and Paul Ritter – “Vorwort” in Dilthey’s Werke III.

As a result of its content, Dilthey’s History has been the subject of bitter criticisms. Let us summarize these:

First, Dilthey privileges Hegel’s early years over his published writings, notably the Phenomenology and Encyclopaedia. He does not hide his disapproval of the “logicisation” of the early vision of the world. [This opposition to the logical setting in stone of originally living thoughts is also a feature of Rudolf Haym’s treatment of Hegel, which Dilthey extends. – SC] Georg Lukács for example [in The Young Hegel (1948)] accuses Dilthey of having made a “philosophy of life” (Lebensphilosophie) out of Hegel, rather than a mature dialectician. This refusal of dialectic means that Dilthey abandons the ideas of progress in history; of a logical progress in history in particular, thus leading to the idea of history as irrational. He rejects the ideas of opposition and dialectical advance, for which he substitutes the ideal of the harmony of life. Herbert Marcuse on the other hand praised Dilthey as a turning point that discovered the ontology of life that Marcuse vindicates, along with an anthropology of historicity and temporality that comes from Heidegger.

As for method, Dilthey gives more importance to unpublished manuscripts than to work that Hegel decided to publish. These manuscripts shed the most light on the origin and development of the author, Dilthey claims. His work on Hegel is admittedly incomplete. Dilthey wrote: “It is in the presentation of Hegel’s later development that I will be able to show how the ideas of the period treated [here] determined the development towards the definitive system.” (15)

But less than a quarter even of the Nachlaß [in Dilthey’s Gesammelte Schriften IV] is concerned with the system, with logic, or with metaphysics. Most of it concerns the philosophies of Hegel’s time. No work remains concerning Hegel’s life as a whole; at most, a later step is broached, but it is one of which Dilthey disapproves. We will return to this later. However, Dilthey’s book makes metaphysics and the influence of contemporaries loom large. [Merle refers the reader to F Beiser’s “Hegel and the Problem of Metaphysics” in Cambridge Companion to Hegel (1992).]

Second, the accent on mysticism and the influence of contemporaries is made a reproach against Dilthey. He attributes a “mystical pantheism” and romanticism, or at least an affinity for romantic authors, to Hegel. Jean Wahl rejected this in France in The Unhappy Consciousness in Hegel’s Philosophy (1929), as did Hermann Glockner in the second volume of his book on Hegel. Dilthey’s Hegel is an irrationalist anti-dialectician, it is said.

Third, Dilthey refers to the early writings as “theological studies”. This appears in both sub-headings of his book and is much in evidence in the text, as in the title of Nohl’s edition. Lukács, Walter Kaufmann (in an essay “Hegel’s early anti-theological phase” and Hegel: A Reinterpretation) and Gérard Lebrun in The Patience of the Concept (1972) [a major untranslated French commentary] see these writings more as “anti-theological”.

Fourth, politics is the loser from the stress on theology, “mystical pantheism” and romanticism. The young Hegel’s sympathy for the French revolution is erased. Lukács attributes this to a reactionary standpoint; Kaufmann thinks the terminology is poorly chosen. We see in Paul Tillich though, that the stress on romanticism or theology is not necessarily hand in glove with reaction. Tillich reckons that Hegel is more influenced by Lessing than by true pantheism. However, Theodor Steinbuchel’s Das Grundproblem der Hegelschen Philosophie [The fundamental problem of Hegelian philosophy] (1933), Henri Niel’s De la Médiation dans la Philosophie de Hegel [On mediation in Hegel’s philosophy] (1945) and Paul Asveld have reinforced Dilthey’s vision. The prominence of religious questions is undeniable though. The influence of Lessing, Goethe and French revolutionary literature stands against it, but Dilthey does not deny these influences. He stresses the heritage of the Enlightenment as well as Hegel’s critique of it. Moreover, Dilthey discusses religious communities and the beliefs that unite them, rather than theology “in the strict sense of the term as doctrine relative to God”. (17) Dilthey himself makes plain the political and sociological dimension of Hegel’s development, though he does not do so from the standpoint of historical materialism [a component part of the Marxist theory of the time], as does Lukács. Dilthey also notes Hegel’s distance from romanticism. His “naive and concrete” mind means that he “remained cold and aloof as a simple onlooker towards the tragedies of romantic fate that his contemporaries were living.” (17) Thus Hölderlin, Schelling and Creuzer, for example.

Fifth, there is Dilthey’s “philosophy of life” (Lebensphilosophie) and its common origins with neo-Hegelianism. Sylvie Mesure has shown the injustice of Lukács’s view of Dilthey as irrationalist in Dilthey et la fondation des sciences historiques [Dilthey and the foundation of the historical sciences] (1999). Lukács goes to excesses, e.g. aligning Nietzsche and Dilthey when Dilthey condemned Nietzsche’s approach to history as irrationalist. Lukács however, has the merit of integrating his criticisms into a broader critique of Dilthey’s thought.

World Views and Religion

Let us now consider the relation of world views to their cultural expression. In the Archiv article previously cited, Dilthey wrote:
“philosophical systems are born from culture as a whole and have exercised an influence back on this whole. Hegel knew this too, but it is now a matter of getting to know this causal[ly related] whole in which this process is carried out through its different constituents. Hegel was not yet focussed on this task; and his resolve, the transposition of philosophical thinkers into the living whole to which they belonged, straight away makes necessary a literary treatment that explores the causal whole formed by this process, starting from the knowledge we can acquire of its contributors, its adversaries and the persons influenced by it.” (18)
This context does not wholly determine the philosopher. It simply contributes to his lived experience. In Dilthey’s Gesammelte Schriften VIII (“The Theory of World Views”) [fragmentary according to Merle and apparently not translated – SC] the whole of culture is represented as having its origin in lived experience, that is, in an attitude, at once theoretical and practical, that lies at the root of any culture. Dilthey writes: “All visions of the world are born of the objectification of what, from the world, the living man has experience in his perceptions and representations, in feeling and in drives, in pitting his will against things.” (18-19) These visions of the world in turn are exteriorized in religion, art and metaphysics.  Dilthey gives a typology of exteriorization:
  • Making (poiesis) corresponds to art;
  • Practice (praxis) corresponds to religion;
  • Theory (theoria) corresponds to philosophy.
Dilthey wrote of religion:
“By “religion”, taken as a word of indefinite extension, we understand a field of representations, feelings and acts of the will of which we conceive the range and the limits diversely. But all the concepts that we make of it carry in them the distinctive mark that any consciousness whatever of the whole of relations [Zusammenhang] that unites all things has some practical human response as a consequence.” (19)
[There needs to be some practical expression or outlet for pious feeling or belief, in other words. – SC] On philosophy, Dilthey writes: “There is philosophy whenever a whole of relations is produced, starting from present knowledge, that raises a claim to universal validity and obtains a relation to psychic life by means of a unity in thought. The nature of this whole differs according to circumstances, but it is always subject to the general intellectual conditions of an era.” (19, GS VIII, 185)

Philosophy [in this sense] then, is not defined by its object or its method, but by its function in human society, says Merle. [This is not the only way to read the passage; Merle cites another, not translated. – SC] Philosophy is what seeks a response to the mystery of existence in universally valid terms. Dilthey, he concludes, uses the terms “religion” and “philosophy” in a wider sense than his critics typically do. Philosophy begins from “present knowledge” and “psychic life” understood religiously. There are fluid transitions from religion to artistic expression and philosophical creativity. This justifies his seeking the origin of philosophy in the religion and biographies of philosophers and in their non-philosophical writings (such as Hegel’s poem Eleusis).

Dilthey’s definition of “theology” sheds light on why he calls Hegel’s early writings “theological”. Merle says: “According to Dilthey, dogma, theology and religious speculation are objectifications (Vergegenständlichungen) of piety in an imagined symbolic system.” (20)

The young Hegel understood the religion of ancient and modern peoples through such “objectifications”. Like Hegel, he finds in this attempt to explain religious symbols intellectually a dialectic that “gives rise to antinomies that tear and dissolve the religious connection.” (20, GS VIII, 29) This results from the ambiguity of religious imagery, which is not a product of the intellect. Dilthey tries to understand religion from world views and these antinomies. Philosophy itself cannot resolve these antinomies. It is: “a personal possession, a sort of character to which we have always attributed the liberation of the mind with regard to traditions, dogmas, prejudices, the power of the instinctive affections, and even with regard to the dominion of what limits us outwardly.” (20) In this, there is a claim to universal validity. Dilthey adds though:
“philosophical systems, quite as much as religions or works of art, contain a point of view on life and the world, which is not founded in conceptual thought, but in the life of the persons who produce it. [...] “every system contains indemonstrable presuppositions.” (20)
Each philosophy, as a system, contains antinomies, so the claim of universal validity must be rejected. Merle says: “There always remains then, a plurality of philosophies, which is based on life itself.” (20) [This seems Kantian in inspiration, or perhaps neo-Kantian in Dilthey’s case. The tendency to limit the scope of reason is clear enough and in my view questionable. Suppose some spirit of aloofness, despair, or resignation to be at work in Schopenhauer’s system for example. It would still be either justified by his arguments for it, or not. – SC]

Leibniz and Hegel in the Typology of World Views

Merle notes that Dilthey’s theory of philosophy involves an ineliminable plurality of philosophies. Let us look more closely at this. Merle writes: “The Diltheyan thesis of an insurmountable plurality of philosophies is not the result of empirical investigation, but of a necessity grounded in the very principles of Dilthey’s thought.” (20)

The basis of his theory of the humanities is made up partly of his famous distinction of explaining and understanding: of causality and teleology [This is roughly speaking Aristotle’s distinction of efficient and final causes. – SC], partly of his application of these two approaches to the study of the human spirit and its manifestations. Dilthey distinguishes three fundamental kinds of "philosophy":
  • naturalism
  • the idealism of freedom
  • objective idealism.
Naturalism is represented by Lucretius, Hume and Feuerbach. Its standpoint is that “man is determined by nature.” Man is a slave, albeit a calculating one, of nature and his passions. The idealism of Fichte is the inverse of this [i.e. man is self-determined and determines nature through his will]. Both philosophies assume the mutual exclusivity of explaining and understanding. This third philosophy is “objective idealism”. Dilthey characterizes it thus:
“All the phenomena of the universe present two sides. Seen from one of these sides, in external perception, these phenomena are given as sensible objects and placed, as such, in physical connection; but, on the contrary, grasped inwardly, they carry in them a living whole of which one can only have the lived experience in the whole that our own inwardness forms.” (21, GS VIII, 117)
[Thus far, this is merely a kind of Schopenhauerian or Bergsonian compatibilism. – SC] Dilthey characterizes it as based on a “contemplative, aesthetic or artistic mode of conduct. There is a “dissolution of all dissonances of life in a universal harmony of all things.” (21) There is “no agreement in a hierarchy of similarity of uniformity, but an all-encompassing vision of the parts in a whole, the raising of the living whole that the parts form into a whole that makes up the world.” (21-22)

Dilthey places Leibniz and Hegel in this third class. Leibniz himself was rather forgotten in Germany, but his standpoint was later represented by Spinozism and the reception of Shaftesbury, particularly by the poets. He sees Kant as part of the “idealism of freedom”, save that the Critique of Judgment is more Leibnizian, with Schelling and Schleiermacher borrowing from this.

Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) by Christophe Francke

Dilthey did not write much about Kant. This task had been given to others (See the Archiv article cited and G Misch & H Nohl, “Handwritten material for the history of post-Kantian philosophy in German libraries” in Kant-Studien, 1912.) There are other reasons though. Leibniz had united a pantheist sense of harmony that came from the Renaissance with a sense of inwardness and individual freedom that came from the Reformation and modern science. Dilthey himself complemented this by introducing a historical dimension into objective idealism. Merle comments on this:
“Now it is this historical dimension that is missing in Kant, according to Dilthey, who rejects the Kantian idea of a universal history, as elsewhere all attempts at a universal history, for these think history wrongly, beginning from a single universal principle which everything must obey. If Dilthey belongs to a movement, that one can observe even among the neo-Kantians, of a regain of interest in Hegel at the expense of Kant, one cannot thus enrol him in the ranks of neo-Hegelianism, as does Lukács. Certainly, Dilthey would agree with Wilhelm Windelband in diagnosing in the revival of interest in Hegel at the expense of Kant that was being drafted at the time, the refusal to limit philosophy to a particular science, such as the epistemology of the natural sciences, the thirst for visions of the world and for a historical synthesis of the whole. But Dilthey cannot accept the logicisation of history accomplished by Hegel in his maturity.” (23) 
[This is a reference to W. Windelband’s essay “Erneuerung des Hegelianismus” [Renewal of Hegelianism] in Präludien, Aufsätze und Reden [Introductions, Essays and Speeches] (1911) and to Rudolf Haym’s progressive rejection of Hegel’s late thought. – SC]

Hegel, Mystical Pantheism and the Logicisation of History

Relating Dilthey’s History to the above typology of world views allows us to side-step misunderstandings of Dilthey’s evocation in it of “mystical” or romantic pantheism by his critics, e.g. Georg Lukács and Walter Kaufmann.

Dilthey did not choose Schelling, Hölderlin or any other romantic to illustrate it. It is not just manuscript evidence that makes him refer to romanticism as an influence, but because “pantheism” pertains to “objective idealism”, in opposition to Kant and Fichte, in the typology of world views. Dilthey shows that Hegel soon parted from this pantheism to recognize the historical, as well as the organic, aspects of mind. It gives way to a distinction of degrees between organic and spiritual life. He condemns elsewhere Hegel’s subjection of nature to the dialectic in his mature works, noting that this is not present in the early manuscripts. Merle says:
“If pantheism is thus a step in the development of the young Hegel, and if this same pantheism also constituted in previous centuries a step in the development of objective idealism, on the other hand it appears clearly that it is not by this influence, for all that transitory, of pantheism on Hegel, that the latter represents an important step in the development of objective idealism, according to Dilthey.” (23-24)  
On several occasions, Dilthey qualifies this pantheism as mystical (e.g. GS IV, 34). This too needs to be understood in relation to objective idealism. The term is intended to stress universal harmony. It privileges neither nature nor the free spirit. It is not the result of the intellect though, but of a pre-existing world view based on lived experience. Dilthey wrote:
“Is reason or will the cause of the world? If we take it to be thought, there is still need of a will that it should be born. If we conceive it as a will, it presupposes a thought that determines an end. But we cannot reduce the will and thought one to the other. Here logical thought relative to the foundation of the world comes to an end and there only remains the reflection of life through this logical thought through mysticism. [...] We cannot think the way plurality can come from the unity of the world, nor what is changing from what is eternal: it is inconceivable from a logical point of view. The relation between being and thought and between extension and thought does not become more intelligible by use of the magical term identity. There remains of these metaphysical systems only a mental constitution and a vision of the world (Weltanschauung).” (24)
[This seems Kantian in the sceptical sense of the 1st Critique, or perhaps neo-Kantian. – SC] Beyond this lies only “impenetrability, inconceivability and the obscurity of mysticism.” (24) Mysticism for Dilthey then indicates a consciousness of universal harmony and a fruitless inquiry into the ultimate cause of this harmony. The importance of Leibniz in this connection is not in his theological principles. Nor does that of Hegel lie in the passing influence of a Schellingian “mystical pantheism”. For Leibniz there was also the sense of the individual and the study of modern sciences. For Hegel, there was the sense of history and historiography, without adopting the notion of an ideal opposed to reality. Dilthey stresses that Hegel owed to the historiography of the Enlightenment the method of collecting facts into a whole, like Voltaire or Gibbon, to construct the history of a century, an era or a country. However, its explanations work in terms of an individualist psychology. This does not permit Christianity to be comprehended, save in terms of a rational religion and superstition deprived of all rationality. Hegel on the other hand from an objective idealist standpoint saw the community as the bearer of beliefs and myths, notably in the case of Christianity (History of Hegel’s Youth, 173). He also explains historical developments from the oppositions, divisions and contradictions of a community. On this, Guiliano Marini says, Dilthey “sought in Hegel an emblematic precedent of his own mental development”. (25) His works on Leibniz and Hegel are “a kind of spiritual autobiography of Dilthey.” (25) Merle says:
“The later subjection of the development of this objective spirit, or “totality of the consciousness of the community” to logical relations between concepts, constitutes for Dilthey a fatal error, that he relates back over and over again to the influence exercised on Hegel by the philosophical movement of his time, and more precisely to the Schellingian method that consists of deducing everything from an absolute Self.” (25)
Dilthey considered it an achievement of the great historical writers of the eighteenth century to have freed history from philosophies of history that “sought the guiding thread of universal history” in a particular transcendent idea. They sought to make a whole of the series of events instead. Merle comments:
“On its side, transcendental philosophy constituted a progress in providing Hegel with the idea of a development of these wholes. The error comes, according to Dilthey, in his later works, from treating history as a simple relation between concepts, as a product of the understanding, while the wholes, the communities which act in history and which it is a question of studying, are not products of the understanding, but the product of visions of the world.” (25-26)
[This illustrates the danger of irrationalism in Dilthey’s theory of Weltanschauungen. – SC] The young Hegel on the contrary undertook, according to Dilthey: “to construct the totality of the world starting from the whole that the relations between the forms of apprehension of the mind establish.” (26) That is to say, starting from the world-views, their socio-historical context and internal relations, for example the development of Greek piety that entailed the adoption of Christianity. Dilthey says: “The relation between concepts in which Hegel’s dialectical method gathers the developing whole of the spirit did not do justice to the profusion of ideas that he embraced at this time.” (26)

The later Hegel, Dilthey says, “abandoned the authentic method of philosophy that had been founded in the Kantian analysis of science.” (26) He subjected the course of history to a transcendence of purely rational concepts, without presuppositions in any vision of the world. Hegel penetrated into this decisive period of history [the advent of Christianity] using in his early work the “categories of history and religion”. Dilthey expands on this going astray a little in the Nachlaß, but the heart of the argument concerns the early Hegel, prior to this alleged error.

The History then becomes an account of a major moment of historiography. It presents a philosopher, but not with a view to expounding a philosophical system or a first principle. Dilthey is concerned rather with a method of historiography. Despite its importance, Christian piety here is simply an example. Dilthey writes:
“Thus one knows the history [of the origin of Christian piety] as a development in which values act as causes. The understanding of these values rests on the fact that one follows the different forms under which this progression takes place. It is in these forms that resides, so to say, the technique of the dialectical development. Since it is in the free exposition of this development that the heart of the historical contribution lies in this period, we have presented his work in an exhaustive manner.” (26-27)
Hence the History is not divided into sections on religion, politics, etc, but by periods chronologically.

The Sense of the Concrete and Individuality

From the outset of his book and repeatedly, Dilthey relates his exposition back to Hegel’s “sense of the concrete” – a Swabian characteristic, according to Dilthey. By the concrete, Dilthey (like Hegel) means the individual, but conceived in relation to his own development and the totality of which he is a part or contingent modification.

In contrast to the thinkers of the Enlightenment, Hegel thinks of the contingent and positive as belonging to human nature. [This may be a comparison with the deduction from universal principles of human nature in the “conjectural history” of the Scottish Enlightenment. – SC] The reference by Dilthey to Hegel’s concrete character and the lived experience of a vision of the world relates back to Dilthey’s use of the concept of genius, drawn from Kant and Romanticism. Dilthey wrote: “the genius of the historian was allied in him to metaphysical genius.” (27) By this latter he means Hegel’s ability to see the individual and universal in mutual relation. Dilthey says:
“each metaphysical genius expresses in concepts a side of reality that had not yet been noticed and that reveals itself to him in the metaphysical experience. From the biographical point of view, this latter consists in a sequence of processes of lived experience, which take on however a philosophical character when one apprehends in them a universal state of affairs.” (27)
Schelling was a metaphysical genius, Herder a historical genius. Their combination in Hegel made him opposed both to the transcendental philosophy and to the historicist school. Dilthey was the first to observe this. Leibniz, he thought, was similar in character. Both thinkers see the universal in the individual. Dilthey seeks here, in his own terms, not to explain but to understand. He uses hypotheses to date manuscripts, admitting that this is uncertain or imprecise. They are part of a living whole. The plan of the original text is omitted from GS IV. It shows him anticipating the study of manuscript material.

The portraits he draws of Leibniz and Hegel are like Dilthey himself. Yet he sees failings in them. Leibniz divided his energies between politics and science, becoming too prolific and disorganized in the process. Dilthey considers it a failing in both Leibniz and Hegel that they sought to find more than an immanent unity in history. In his essay on Leibniz, Dilthey says: “the method that consists in establishing the fundamental concepts of scientific thought in a limited and explicitly quantified number and defining them in a universally valid way, is [certainly] already unrealizable.” (28-29)

Dilthey shows modesty in confining himself to immanent history and rejecting both Leibniz’s universal calculus and Hegel’s mature system. In this he is influenced by neo-Kantianism and the sense of history drawn from his reaction to it. [Rudolf Haym is probably also an influence here. – SC] Dilthey writes: “in what concerns the formation of his [Hegel’s] own ideas, their historical unfolding refutes the linear and logical method of construction that Hegel applied to this period, before the historians of philosophy of his era applied it to him.” (29)

The German Spirit

As regards the lived experience of Leibniz and Hegel, we must note another common characteristic – they were both German and concerned with political matters, culture and the public role of religion. This last concern is distinctively German and links them to ancient Greece, according to Dilthey. [It might be worth qualifying this view by reference to Maurice Cowling’s Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England (1980). – SC] As it comes from the same lived experience and Weltanschauung as their thought of history, their political and religious thought has much in common, despite the intervening centuries.

Dilthey says: “We were never a nation, and even the event of the Reformation, still living today in the people, has produced no religious festival of popular vigour.” (29) And citing Hegel’s dictum that “Germany is no more a state.” he asks: “How can Germany become a state again?” (30) Dilthey too wishes for a unity of the Protestant churches. The lack of unity is not purely internal; the interests of neighbouring states and the cupidity and discord of German princes led to political dissolution. Catholicism contributed external views; foreign customs have entered via the courts [of the princes].

Three assets were identifiable amidst the problematic divide of the 18th century: the inner freedom of Protestantism; the absence of absolutism that was a consequence of political and religious division; save under the Prussia of Frederick II; and the combination of foreign influences and the metaphysical facility for seeing the universal in the particular, which makes the German spirit cosmopolitan and universalist. This last stands in opposition to the romantic or historicist way of seeing Germany. Absolutism was seen as a mechanical system based on threats.

Dilthey highlights the political commonalities of Leibniz and Hegel, noting their objective idealism and organicism at the level of their vision of the world. The relation of whole and part is a living relation [as opposed to a mechanical aggregate]. The [patriotic] individual identifies with the whole. Dilthey notes the combination of the ancient ideal of the city as community and the modern concept of the person. Dilthey says of Leibniz: “his Germanic depth of spirit was careful first of all to defend the right of individual existence against the universe.” (30-31)

These two texts [on Leibniz and Hegel] are not occasions for Dilthey to express his political views, but he agrees with Hegel that: “religion must in some way be the soul of the life of the state” (31) in order to forge a nation. This goes against mechanical conceptions of political organisation. It is to take what is correct in the idea of individual autonomy in Kant and the French revolution but, as Hegel did, criticize the opposition of sensibility and freedom in Kant or the mechanical model adopted again by the French revolutionaries. [The post-1789 French state was widely conceived as centralized in Germany at this time. – SC]

Dilthey offers two means to reach such as state supported by religion. It can be the work of a Prince [or a reformer]. In this regard, Dilthey notes Hegel’s theory of the great man and the comparison with Machiavelli. Leibniz placed hopes in Louis XIV [of France], then in the Princes of Hanover, Prussia and Austria. Hegel had hopes for the Directory, then Napoleon. A state requires the power to defend itself. This is self-evident and only said in criticism of the German Reich. The great man is he who foresees the next step implicit in the current situation. He is thus a reformer. Hegel breaks with Rousseau and Fichte by anchoring the idea of autonomy in history. Leibniz also does this, to the point of an excessive seeking after compromise when he tried to unify the churches. [Leibniz sought to unify the Protestant and Catholic churches by proposing a common creed. – SC]

Political reform requires a prior inner reform. In Hegel, this is religious; in Leibniz it is also scientific. Hegel not only sees the universal in the particular but, Like Leibniz, has a capacity of combining what is fruitful in the different currents on thought of his time. Leibniz harmonized science, scholarship in the humanities and theology; so that Dilthey concludes that “the universality of the German spirit now finds its expression in philosophy.” (32) Like Leibniz, Dilthey promoted co-operation between scholars. The Berlin Academy had many foreign members. Leibniz said that the earth should be covered by “a network of scientific institutes, all turned towards the same everlasting goal, that of reconciling the nations and realizing the kingdom of God.” (32)

The two essays on Leibniz and Hegel were conceived and written as part of a “History of the German Spirit”. Given the intended synthesis of foreign influences, one might ask why it was not rather a “History of the European Spirit” or even “World Spirit”, as in the Gesammelte Schriften II on "World View and Analysis of Mankind since the Renaissance and Reformation". The answer seems to lie in the theory of the three Weltanschauungen. Dilthey saw French philosophy in the 19th century as principally spiritualist, i.e. pertaining to the idealism of freedom. [He may be thinking of such figures as Victor Cousin and Bergson. – SC] English thought since Locke and Hume has been predominantly naturalist. There are exceptions: Fichte was an idealist of freedom; while Shaftesbury belongs to objective idealism, but national tradition counts for something. [In my view, if the idea is to be defended, it needs to take account of the dynamism of "national" thought as well as “exceptions”. Philosophy in the active sense cannot be purely traditional or merely passive in the face of extra-philosophical influences. – SC]

A History of Philosophies at the Limits of Philosophy

What is of most concern is not geographical exceptions to this schema [of national traditions of philosophy], but the objections to a history of philosophy based on a limited typology of visions of the world. Dilthey had precursors in this. Fichte for example contrasts materialism and idealism, e.g. in the second Preface to the first Wissenschaftslehre and in Characteristics of the Present Age. Leo Strauss more recently did something similar (Merle refers to his essay “Leo Strauss et l’idéalisme allemande” in Cahiers de philosophie juridique et politique, 1993, for more on this).  [Another French Hegel-scholar, Pierre Manent, has acknowledged the influence of Strauss. - SC]

Dilthey’s threefold division might be said to be based on a prior division into unilateral (naturalist and idealist) and inclusive (objective idealist) manners of thinking. Dilthey sees Kant moving from an idealist standpoint in his Ethics to an objective idealist one (in the late third Critique) which had been absent for a century in German philosophy.

It is apparent that Dilthey favored the inclusive vision of the world over the one-sided ones. Hence Odo Marquand is wrong to say (in his paper “Leben und leben lassen” [Live and let live] in Dilthey Jahrbuch II, 1984) that his typology involves a radical relativism. Kuno Fischer (in Hegels Leben, 1901) and others have written of the journey from Kant to Hegel from the standpoint of Hegel, but not as relativists. (Dilthey reviewed Fischer in “Das Hegel-Buch Kuno Fischers”, see Gesammelte Schriften XV).

What distinguishes Dilthey is rather that, while his history is based on categories immanent in history, his history of philosophy is not based on categories immanent in philosophy. It takes account of the influence of philosophical movements on a philosopher, but not to the exclusion of other factors. Merle says of Dilthey’s history of philosophy:
“It certainly takes into account the influence on the philosopher under consideration of the philosophical movements of his time, but it equally considers his character, and above all his goal is to reveal the vision of the world of this philosopher. Now if we can easily agree that a philosopher’s starting point, the origin of his philosophy, lies in his lived experience and in the vision of the world that this gives rise to, what constitutes philosophical activity properly speaking assuredly does not lie there, but in the task of reflection on those visions of the world, as well as on the argumentation that constitutes dialogue between the philosophical positions arising from the different visions of the world.” (34)
Thus Martial Guéroult accuses Dilthey of psychological reductionism (in Philosophie de l’histoire de la philosophie, 1979). Merle agrees: Dilthey has written a “history of the German spirit”, not a “history of German philosophy”. Even the passages describing the relations between Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling are not really an exception. Dilthey drew attention to Hegel’s early manuscripts, but the books which have since discussed them do not deal much with Dilthey’s History at the level of philosophy or, if they do so, it is in order to refute it. [Merle does not say who he is referring to, but he has previously cited Lukács, Asveld and Peperzak. – SC] His books on Leibniz and Hegel are still read, but as background. Hegel wrote the history of philosophy; Dilthey did not.

Dilthey’s texts oblige us to think about what it is to do philosophy. Such activity must start from a theoretical and practical interest that is both particular and general in character. Doubtless this arises from lived experience and a vision that responds to the question of meaning. We have cited Paul Tillich saying that Dilthey showed us that Hegel was once young. However, between the visions of the morning and the fall of night when the Owl of Minerva flies, there is the work of the day, which Gérard Lebrun calls “the patience of the concept” [the title of his book, La Patience du concept (1972) much cited in France but little known in the English-speaking world. – SC.] This is philosophical activity, properly so-called. The interest in the young Hegel exists, but has never eclipsed the interest in the mature Hegel of the Phenomenology and Encyclopaedia.