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Reviewed by:
  • Ethical and World-View Philosophy by Wilhelm Dilthey
  • Sebastian Luft
Wilhelm Dilthey. Ethical and World-View Philosophy. Edited, with an introduction, by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Selected Works, volume 6. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. Pp. xi + 346. Cloth, $55.00.

The present volume is the final tome in the six-volume translation of the main writings of Wilhelm Dilthey, offering a selection of what the series editors, Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi (together with an advisory board including scholars such as Paul Ricœur and Otto Pöggeler), deemed the most important writings of the philosopher-historian. By comparison, Dilthey's Collected Works in the German spans twenty-six volumes (an editorial project lasting over one hundred years) and is now complemented by a four-volume edition of his correspondence (of which three volumes have appeared). Thus, the texts gathered in this set of translations are but the tip of the iceberg of Dilthey's writings.

The sixth volume fills a thematic gap in the series by including texts on ethics and religion. While Dilthey's writings on the philosophy of worldviews might be some of his most-known work in German, his writings on religion and ethics belong perhaps to his least-known work overall.

Given the standard narrative of Dilthey's thought, perhaps the most surprising text in this volume is the System of Ethics of 1890, which should receive special mention here. In this text of a bit over one hundred pages, Dilthey gives a historical overview of the ethical systems the West has had to offer, critiquing each along the way, thereby laying out his ethical "system" especially in confrontation with the tendencies of his time. These are, to him, naturalism in philosophy and science, and socialism in ethics, which he sees as of a piece. He also critiques as having become insufficient in our times Christian dogma and traditional metaphysics that posits universally valid principles; both, too, are seen as stemming from the same standpoint. Instead, ethics is in need of an "epistemological and critical foundation" (48). This foundation is based on the "inner relatedness of instinct, feeling, and volition" (73), which produce a teleological movement in the individual in their "gradual merging" (74). This leads Dilthey to propose a "formative ethics," which does not restrict, but "cultivates psychic animality into a joyful form of life in harmony with the higher life" (82). Ultimately, personal ethics has to lead to a "social ethics" and to a "moral culture" (131). As the editors characterize Dilthey's stance: "Whereas traditional ethics located the ideal of inner worth in individual character, Dilthey's social ethics also projects this ideal into the historical world of cultural development" (9).

Included in this volume is the well-known "Dream," a talk Dilthey gave at the celebration of his seventieth birthday in 1903. Dilthey reports a dream he had after a philosophical conversation with a friend. In this dream, Dilthey meets past and present philosophers, as if he were walking through a live staging of Raphael's School of Athens. As he also meets philosophers he personally knew, he grows anxious, as they form two separate groups, creating a hostile standoff. This leads Dilthey to reflect on the "two faces" (168) that philosophy shows. "The inextinguishable impulse for metaphysics wants to solve the riddle of the world and of life, and in this regard, philosophers are akin to religious thinkers and poets. But philosophers differ from them inasmuch as they want to solve this riddle through [End Page 524] universally valid knowledge" (168). While the latter is present in the great systems of Western philosophy, the former can only be grappled with at the level of worldviews, which "express different forms while referring to one truth. This truth is not cognizable" (169) but needs to be lived through from the standpoint of historical consciousness.

Known today mainly as the philosopher who influenced Heidegger to move beyond Husserl's phenomenology toward Heidegger's analysis of Dasein and from there to Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, Dilthey in this volume, along with the entire Selected Works series, shows us a philosopher who deserves to be recognized in his...


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