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  • Vittorio Hösle

What Are the Humanities and to What End Does One Study Them?

Vittorio Hösle

Paul Kimball Professor of Arts and Letters, Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures, Concurrent Professor of Philosophy and of Political Science, Notre Dame

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The sundering of English-language scholarship from the international community has strangled our hope. The widespread sense of crisis in the humanities, confirmed it seems by daily headlines reporting new closures of humanities departments, is symptomatic of this sundering, and the false despair it induces.


There is no really rigorous or convincing defense of the humanities in the English-speaking world, one that acknowledges why they are in crisis, explains the crisis, and then gives an account of what humanities really do, and thus what they ought to aim at, and how they relate to the natural sciences. Without good reasons for them, why fund the humanities? Why study them?


The German response to the crisis of the Geisteswissenschaften – the sciences of the human, of the mind, or the “humanities” in English – is different from the English response because the humanities are recognized as sciences (Wissenschaften) and there is a long German tradition of rigorous scholarship studying them. We are pleased to present in English for the first time a clear and profound articulation of the humanities and their value in this essay by the philosopher and historian Vittorio Hösle, who has written a book on this subject, Kritik der verstehenden Vernunft, which develops in depth the themes of this essay, originally published in Hans Joas and Jörg Noller, eds., Geisteswissenschaft – was bleibt? Zwischen Theorie, Tradition und Transformation.

What Are the Humanities?

Today, the humanities play a role that they never had in any previous epoch of mankind: they are active in book reviews and broadcasting, i.e. in the opinion industry, and thus exert influence, among other things, on the formation of political moods. The courses of study, such as that of a cultural economist, aim right from the start at the integration of those thus educated in cultural industry and tourism; and if the well-known thesis of Odo Marquard is correct, that the humanities compensate for the damages of modernization by telling stories, we may predict a bright future for them – because the damages of modernization will, of that at least we can be sure, increase considerably in this century, the more our non-universalizable lifestyle spreads over the whole planet and causes more and more ecosystems and traditional cultural forms to collapse. The risk, of course, is that this collapse will ultimately reach a dimension that threatens all kinds of luxuries, including, for example, those of the humanities. For their triumph, it can be argued from a sociological point of view, is first of all connected with the fact that the unheard-of growth in prosperity of the last two centuries, made possible by the scientific and especially the industrial revolution, has freed more and more people from agricultural work and enabled them to live long lives that must somehow be filled; and even if this probably most important change of course in the history of mankind is mainly due to mathematical, scientific, engineering and medical thinking, it has to be acknowledged that not all people are sufficiently educated in mathematics and science to make their own contributions to them, even though we all benefit from them. Since the Enlightenment took place at the same time as the above-mentioned revolution, which largely undermined the authority of the monotheistic religions and later of metaphysics, it was convenient that the humanities offered themselves as an alternative (and why not say compensatory) intellectual sphere of action to theology and first philosophy as well as to mathematics and the natural sciences. Those who do not like theology and do not know mathematics, but nevertheless want to find a place in the scientific system, may find their livelihood in the humanities.[1]


The perspective on the rise of the humanities just sketched is cynical and would thus actually be in line with the current postmodern orientation of many currents in the humanities, if even postmodernists, astonishing as it may be, did not enjoy their own ironization less than that of others. Yet that does not make it wrong. Nevertheless, it is profoundly one-sided. What I will try to do in the following is therefore, first, to sketch a telegraphic history of the humanities, which, unlike Marquard, does not simply interpret them as a compensatory event, but seeks to understand them in their own right (I). I will secondly pursue the factual question of what is the actual distinguishing feature of the humanities as they have emerged within the system of knowledge since the late 19th century (II). Third, I will show what the humanities, understood in this way, can accomplish – and explore their scholarly achievements in terms of both their positive and negative social consequences (III). Finally, I will examine what the humanities cannot accomplish and, in this context, criticize some aberrations in the current humanities (IV). Although this may initially be tantamount to a rejection of a certain form of the humanities’ hubris, I will suggest how collaboration with disciplines that are not humanities-oriented by nature might lead the humanities out of their current limitations (V).



With a partial thesis, which he takes over from his teacher Joachim Ritter,[2] Marquard[3] is completely right: The humanities, or to be more precise: the modern humanities, emerged later than the (modern) natural sciences – Vico follows Descartes, Dilthey follows Kant, each with a delay of about one century. It is true that some of the activities that today belong to the sphere of the humanities, especially historiography and the interpretation of classics, were cultivated quite early by some advanced civilizations; it is also indisputable that, for example, Indian linguistics since Pāṇini and Alexandrian philology have achieved highly significant scientific achievements. But this does not change the fact that in the classification of the sciences undertaken by the philosophers, the humanities appear very late.[4] One thinks of the five sciences which in Plato prepare the ascent to dialectics, which itself is obviously not an interpretive science, but deals with ideal entities – namely arithmetic, geometry, stereometry, astronomy and harmonics.[5] The first three are sub-areas of pure mathematics, the other two sub-areas of mathematics applied to nature; for harmonics belongs to acoustics and has nothing to do with the interpretation of musical works, as it constitutes an important part of modern musicology. Aristotle’s division of the sciences is much richer, but even here one looks for the humanities in vain. For according to him the three theoretical sciences are mathematics, physics and first philosophy or theology.[6] But do not at least his practical and poietic disciplines treat humanities topics, such as the state or poetry? Certainly, one can find insights in them that captivate even a modern humanist extraordinarily; but it is crucial to keep the difference in mind. In Ethics and Politics, Aristotle wants to pursue the questions what the good life and the good state are. Certainly, descriptive statements, even whole theories can be found in this context – think of the fifth book of the Politics about revolutions. But even these political science researches, which at times become independent, apply to a practical purpose – the avoidance of revolutions, because Aristotle is particularly concerned about the stability of a constitution. The point of the modern humanities, however, is that they see themselves as theoretical sciences, not at all as auxiliary sciences of practical philosophy. The same is true for Aristotle’s Poetics and Rhetoric, which seek to instruct the poet and the orator how to proceed: “Instructions are to be given to the poet [...].”[7] Certainly, one can distinguish descriptive and normative propositions in, say, the Poetics, but the former serve the latter. What modern literary scholar, however, would want to conceive of his task in analogous terms? The alternative ancient threefold division of the sciences, which goes back to Xenocrates, was taken up by the Stoics and still has an effect on Kant, namely in logic, physics and ethics, obviously has no place for the humanities.


The Middle Ages – for which Bonaventura may stand here with his division of science in De reductione artium ad theologiam – had more room for the understanding sciences than antiquity, for two reasons. On the one hand, after the quadrivium, which we found in Plato[8] and which apparently goes back already to the Sophistic,[9] the trivium of grammar (which studies only its own language), logic and rhetoric had formed.[10] Bonaventura, in the fourth chapter of the work, integrates it into the first stage of philosophy, into rational philosophy, which is marked off from natural and moral philosophy. But he does not see that logic on the one hand and grammar and rhetoric on the other hand are completely heterogeneous disciplines, even though at one point he groups them all under the term “interpretativa.” On the other hand, philosophical knowledge is followed, as by a cognitive summit, by the light of Scripture, which must be interpreted according to the fourfold sense of Scripture. But even if Bonaventure considers biblical hermeneutics to be the culmination of all sciences, it is crucial to understand that this form of hermeneutics not only methodologically contradicts all standards of modern hermeneutics that were to be developed since the Reformation, but also that it can hardly be counted among the humanities in terms of content. For the latter are concerned with the human spirit, whereas Bonaventure wants to understand or, even better, appropriate the word of God. In his system of knowledge, theological hermeneutics is certainly not a science of the human spirit.


In contrast, Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning can be said to do justice to the reorientation of knowledge that took place in humanism thanks to its interest in the philologically reliable study of antiquity. It is true that Bacon’s first subdivision of the sciences, unlike in d’Alembert’s introductory “Discourse” to the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, which was inspired by Bacon, is still that of human and divine, i.e., theological, knowledge. But Bacon’s primary interest is in the former. And he divides both forms of knowledge according to the triad of memory, imagination, and reason into history, poetry, and philosophy, which, while leading to an unsatisfactory entanglement of the psychology of mental faculties and the structure of being, nevertheless valorizes history and poetry. The opposition between history and philosophy does not correspond at all to that of humanities and natural sciences, but is orthogonal to it: For according to Bacon, there is, besides that of state, church and literature, a history also of nature as well as, vice versa, a philosophy of man, which follows rational theology and the philosophy of nature (with First Philosophy as general foundation). This philosophy of man is further divided into the doctrine of man as an individual and the doctrine of man as a social being. To the first belongs the doctrine of the human body and the human mind and its functions, for example cognition and volition, to which the rational and the moral philosophy correspond. Political philosophy includes inter alia jurisprudence.


Thematically, thanks to his interest in history and poetry, Bacon covers more of the humanities than any philosopher before him. But the specific methodological problem of the humanities is something he cannot even begin to address, and that is because he is a pre-Cartesian author. Descartes’ intellectual revolution, as is well known, consists in a sharp distinction between the spatially extended and measurable physical and the mental, which is accessible in introspection and which, unlike the physical, I cannot doubt, because such an act of doubting would itself be something mental. Descartes’ arguments are, in my opinion, compelling, but they have made philosophy a much more complicated enterprise than it had been in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In particular, his discovery leads to a split between epistemic and ontological inquiry. For introspection takes place only in the first person. But if I don’t want to be a solipsist, I have to attribute mentality (as well as from a certain level of mentality the ability of introspection) to other beings, at least to my fellow human beings, even if it is accessible to me only mediated by something physical – from facial expressions to sound waves to artifacts. In the dichotomy of the physical on the one hand and the mental given in introspection on the other hand, the mind of another is not easy to classify, and this explains why even Kant in his heroic attempt to clarify the transcendental conditions of the possibility of modern science concentrates on the natural sciences and a psychology based on introspection and thereby ignores the humanities, although they had experienced a great development especially in Germany during his lifetime. In addition, significant foundations of the humanities can be found in the 18th century in the Scottish Enlightenment, for example with Hume, and already before that in Italy with Vico. The world-historical significance of his main work Principj di scienza nuova of 1725/1744 consists in having found for the first time a place of its own for the new science of the common nature of the nations – it is considered as the third science besides the science of God (which is connected with the science of the individual spirit) and the science of nature. Vico even gives an explanation why the new science could only develop after the science of nature: Self-perception is more difficult than the perception of an external object. What is decisive here is that Vico, quite like tradition, links science, unlike history, to the presence of general structures. It is a new science only because Vico believes to have discovered general laws of development that repeat themselves. The interest in the particular, contrary to Marquard’s suggestion, was not the godparent for the baptism of traditional humanism as a science.[11]


Where does the enthusiasm of the 18th century for the humanities come from? Humanity has been performing operations of understanding, phylogenetically as well as ontogenetically, since its beginnings, and interpreting from foreign languages must have occurred early. But the interest in the other language is purely instrumental – it is not considered a legitimate object of research, certainly mostly because the foreign culture is considered inferior to one’s own. Even a culture like the Greek one, to which we owe top achievements in mathematics and some natural sciences, has never written down, at least in the texts preserved to us, the simple insight that Greek, Latin and Persian are more similar to each other than any of them is to Phoenician. I say “written down” because I do not want to exclude that such remarks may have been made at an ancient dinner party; but if this was the case, no one has considered this observation worth recording.[12] For science presupposes not only observations, but also the conviction of the dignity of the observed, and it is precisely this consciousness which, with reference to foreign cultures, does not arise in the West until the early modern period.[13] At the same time, central was the humanist conviction that the achievements of antiquity were an exemplary standard to which we should orient ourselves. In order to approach the ancient, especially Greek culture, special hermeneutical efforts are necessary, and philological auxiliary sciences begin to form. These gain further importance through the Reformation pathos of precise recourse to the original text of the Bible in order to cancel the errors of Christianity that had taken place in scholasticism. The goal is to find the actual literal sense. Spinoza will develop this method to perfection in the first part of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus; however, unlike the Reformers, he will detach the search for the meaning of a text from the question of its truth. In this context, he discovers that many theological ideas were later only read into the Bible – Spinoza criticizes Maimonides in particular because he knows him especially well and because this was less dangerous in a Christian country, but it goes without saying that his criticism also applies to Christian theology. Since he further teaches that every event must have an inner-worldly secondary cause, beside which also general laws are required for a causal explanation,[14] inevitably also what was considered as revelation is drawn into the stream of causally connected human events. This conviction, in addition to the transfer to theology of certain methods of classical philology, such as the differentiation of layers of a text, and finally the realization that many of the biblical statements about nature and history are factually wrong, let the naive belief in the literal truth of the Bible collapse among the historically educated in the eighteenth century.[15] Also with regard to one’s own tradition, it now becomes possible to adopt an external rather than an internal perspective. By this is meant that one fades out the claim to truth of traditions and explains causally how they came to be, i.e. one practices, for example, religious studies instead of theology. The analysis of religion in David Hume’s The Natural History of Religion and of early Christianity in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire are perhaps the most striking examples of this new intellectual attitude, which presupposes a cartesian capacity for abstraction, even if it is now no longer nature out of which the ego reflects itself, but its own history of origin. Arnold Gehlen has brilliantly described the extraordinary nature of this change of perspective: “Only with this step did the religions and worldviews of exotic or primitive peoples become possible objects at all, whereas they had to appear as heresies, pagan superstition, or at best as curious nonsense to the consciousness that had not been seized by the Enlightenment, which did not ‘believe in religious ideas’ but lived in the medium of the word of God and from there found everything encountered already predetermined, and were repelled before they had even reached the limit of theoretical interest.”[16]


Joachim Ritter is probably right in his thesis that the acceleration of the course of history through industrialization has increased the ability to objectify one’s own history; in any case, the latter is of the same spirit as the Cartesian separation of res extensa and res cogitans.[17] The specifically Marquardian point, according to which we need the humanities in order to preserve, for example, in costume museums the folk costumes that have been lost in reality, is, in contrast, a strong limitation of Ritter’s thesis,[18] even if it cannot be denied a partial truth.[19] But both compensation theories, I think, underestimate the ultimately moral root of the modern humanities. The belief that one’s own religion or one’s own culture is the right one, simply for the reason that it is one’s own, collapses in the instant I realize that members of other cultures can make the same argument for themselves. The intrinsic interest in other cultures – not, as with the early missionaries, exclusively for the purpose of finding entry points for their own missionary efforts – arose where morally sensitive people found the doctrine of damnation for those of other faiths increasingly intolerable. And religious people who held on to the presence of God in reality increasingly had to come to the realization that God could not only be present in the traditional salvation history of the Jews and Christians.


The great theological revolution connected with the names of Lessing and Herder consists, first, in renouncing the justification of Christianity by supposedly reliable historical texts, and, second, in taking the leap forward, as it were, and seeing the work of God in the unfolding of human history as a whole. Since the spirit stands higher than nature, more of God is to be recognized in its unfolding than in nature. In human history, however, Christianity continues to be given a significant place, and thus Herder, Goethe, and Hegel, who elaborate this program philosophically and poetically, are thoroughly attached to Christianity, albeit in varying degrees. In German culture, they gave the humanities a religious consecration, as it were. As for the author of the Gospel of John (4:24), for Hegel God in his highest determination is spirit,[20] and therefore philosophical theology culminates in a conceptual development of the categories of spirit as well as in an exploration of the realization of these concepts in the history of the human spirit. When in the middle of the 19th century German idealism collapsed, among other reasons because its logical foundations were not sufficient and it was not able to integrate the rapid development of the natural sciences into its natural philosophy, the humanities were deprived of their foundation in a metaphysics of the spirit. For Auguste Comte, the hierarchy of sciences culminates in sociology; theology and metaphysics belong only to earlier stages of intellectual development. In this process, the humanities and social sciences increasingly become value-free sciences, comparable, for instance, to zoology.[21] But the positivistic pathos, which became a hot commodity for a while, to find out all possible facts about the human cultures, a pathos, to which a man like Plato would have only turned up his nose as vulgar and anti-philosophical, cannot be understood at all in the sense of a mere subtraction story.[22] It is not that this pathos would be something natural and it only had to get rid of the absurd theological-metaphysical foundation. Without this foundation, positivism in the humanities would never have come about, indeed, without it, in the end, it hardly makes sense. In any case, what is needed is, first, a justification of the meaning of the activity of the humanities and, second, a justification of their ability to fulfill their task. The tension between the enormous growth of knowledge in the humanities since the 19th century and the difficulty of grounding this new type of science since Descartes’ challenge still weighs on us. For even though Dilthey sought to extend Kant’s program to the humanities, he failed to do so, mainly because the transcendental question is not easy to reconcile with the radical historicism that seemed to arise as a natural consequence from the process of understanding, once it became comprehensive. If the historical humanities demonstrate to us how the theoretical beliefs and moral values of mankind change over the centuries, why should a timeless justification of the humanities be possible? Yes, why should we feel bound by the principles of the Enlightenment to which the modern humanities owe their existence? Gadamer’s Truth and Method owes its resounding success to the historicization of historicism. On the one hand, this has had the positive consequence of a renewed opening to a non-positivist understanding of the humanities, but on the other hand, it has led to an undermining of the standards of historical understanding that the 18th and 19th centuries had elaborated. The humanities are then no longer merely value-free, but even renounce the claim of an “objective,” methodically comprehensible understanding of the interpretandum.



It has already become clear from what has been said that the humanities must be understood as sciences in which the operation of understanding (or of interpreting as the methodically equipped understanding of complex interpretanda) is central. This is how they were already conceived by Wilhelm Dilthey, who rightly points out that they are not simply sciences of man. “After all, physiology also deals with one side of the human being, and it is a natural science. In the facts in and for themselves, therefore, cannot lie the reason for the division of the two classes. The humanities must relate differently to the physical side of man than to the mental.”[23] The essence of the humanities consists in understanding physical objects and events as expressions of certain mental processes. Since we have every reason to attribute subjective experience to higher animals as well, certain subfields of biology such as ethology could also be called “humanities” (Geisteswissenschaften) in the broader sense of the word, but since, at least as far as we know today, mental acts above a certain level of complexity are confined to humans, the humanities may be regarded as a genuine subset of the human sciences. Not all mental acts, but nevertheless those that are particularly dear to the humanities, are intentional in nature, i.e. they refer to an object – real or imagined. With Edmund Husserl I will speak of the noetic and noematic (noetic, referring to the act of thinking; noematic, referring to the object of thought) component of an intentional act. While I take noeseis to be something inner-worldly, presumably supervening on a physical event in the brain, it is out of the question to assume the same of noemata – and this, among other reasons, because also non-existent or timeless things can become noemata. The study of a mental act can be directed either to the noetic or to the noematic moment, i.e. primarily to reconstruct the mental act from its utterance and to explain it in its causal connection with other mental acts (e.g. the interpretation of utterances of other persons) or to try to fathom the noema. Whoever seeks to understand Euclid, for example, may either pursue the question what Euclid actually meant and how he was enabled to discover and prove his theorems, or concentrate on the question where in the Elements there are gaps in the proof. The second question is no longer of an understanding nature, even though human nature implies that we arrive at factual questions of this kind only on the basis of a long process of understanding. Nevertheless, it is hopeless to answer even the first question if one has no factual familiarity with the noematic sphere. For the at first sight unsolvable circle, that we can infer mental acts of others only by utterances, but can understand the corresponding physical entities as utterances of mental acts only if we already have an access to the mind of the other, this circle can be overcome only if we assume that the intentional acts of the other are true, if not always, in the majority of cases. This is not an empirical assumption, but a transcendental presupposition; among all alternative interpretations we have to choose the one that ascribes the least errors.[24]


How do we distinguish the humanities from other sciences? Something is not a matter of the humanities if there is nothing mental, or better, nothing intentional, in their subject area, i.e. if there is no understanding in the methods used. (In the acquisition of these sciences, too, processes of understanding are indispensable – but the subject area of a science is not identical with it). This is true for ideal sciences like logic and mathematics as well as for the sciences of inanimate nature like physics and chemistry and for large parts of biology. Surprisingly, this is also true for philosophy, which is not a discipline of the humanities, even if it is institutionally lumped in with them for reasons of convenience, because it is difficult to create a separate place in a university or academy that would do justice to its special position. Certainly, the history of philosophy is a humanity – but this is also true for the history of natural sciences. But as the latter does not coincide with natural science, so can philosophy not be identified with its history. It goes without saying that mathematics and natural philosophy are not humanities, but even the philosophy of mind is not part of the humanities; for its being consists in an analysis of concepts, not in understanding utterances. The philosopher wants to know what belongs to the essence of the mind, not what others have meant about its essence. Ethics, too, unlike the history of ethics, is self-evidently not a part of humanities. But aren’t the humanities about values? Well, they describe the value attitudes that people and cultures have, obviously highly complex intentional acts. But if the brief outline of the history of the humanities that I have given was correct, the sharp separation between the external description of values and the humanities’ own valuation was central to the emancipation of the humanities from theology and philosophy. After this emancipation, one may or may not believe in an independent science called ethics; what one certainly can no longer do is subsume this science under the humanities.[25]


Misleading, on the other hand, are the demarcations which, for example, oppose the humanities as understanding sciences to the explanatory sciences. This opposition, which has been defended by important theoreticians of the humanities,[26]points to something correct when it emphasizes that understanding is peculiar to the humanities; but it errs when it either denies explanations to the humanities at all or wants to grasp them according to a completely different pattern than the deductive-nomological one. To me at least, Carl Gustav Hempel’s subsumption also of the historical humanities under the same explanatory model as that of the natural sciences seems correct in principle,[27] even if the laws that determine human behavior are incomparably more complex than even those that govern weather events, and even if humans can react to laws that describe their previous behavior, which is precluded to non-intentional beings.[28] But also this reaction will probably be able to be explained causally once, even if not by those who just act according to it – because the acting person directs his intention according to reasons, not according to causes. Wilhelm Windelband’s famous demarcation that the historical sciences are idiographic, i.e. they describe individual things, while the natural sciences are nomothetic, i.e. they establish laws,[29] seems to me to undercut Bacon’s and Vico’s philosophy of science. For, of course, there are also idiographic works on natural entities – think of the history of the earth – and at least the search for general laws, for instance in political science (an example would be Duverger’s law), even if in these laws cause and effect are usually linked by some kind of logical relationship. Even a biographical study, e.g. on Napoleon, is only possible because it presupposes certain individual psychological and social laws – and always where it uses the word “because.” Social sciences and historical sciences do not deal with different subject areas, but take a look at general structures or individual events or persons belonging to the same ontological layer; their difference is thus of a completely different kind than that of physics and biology, for example. Nevertheless, one may admit that the dignity of idiographic studies increases with the importance of their subject; and since nothing is more complex than the human mind and in no other entity is more concentrated mind to be found than in the great scientific theories and works of art, it makes sense that scientific studies apply to these concrete entities, which one would not devote to a single bug.


Analogously, I cannot follow the thesis that the natural sciences are the mathematized sciences, the humanities the non-mathematizable sciences. First, the natural sciences have been mathematized only late – biology only in the 20th century – without having been humanities earlier. Secondly, some social sciences, for example the theory of economics as well as the theory of inter- national relations have been successfully mathematized in the 20th century thanks, among other things, to a mathematical theory for which the reference to intentions is essential – naturally, I mean game theory. Since we cannot foresee the further development of mathematics and the modeling of human behavior, it seems to me that the demarcation with respect to the degree of mathematization only fixes the present state of affairs.


One will object here that I have constantly slipped in the social sciences instead of the humanities. I confess that I have followed the example of Dilthey and have always subsumed the social sciences under the humanities, namely because I do not see how one can strictly distinguish both groups of disciplines from each other. For a human becomes an intentional being only through social processes such as education; in this respect, any analysis of one’s intentions will have to take social aspects into account. With the best will in the world, I do not know whether church history or the social history of art are to be considered social sciences or humanities. However, it can be conceded that the social sciences become particularly pertinent where it is a matter of the unintended consequences of human behavior, which sometimes gain a momentum of their own that baffles everyone. The systemic character of such consequences was first discovered in the 18th century; that explains the fact, astonishing in itself, that Isaac Newton precedes Adam Smith, although the mathematics of the former is truly more complex than that of the latter. It is this momentum of the social that seems to lead out of the realm of the humanities into that of the natural; but it can only be approached by going back to its origin, which cannot be grasped at all without processes of understanding. I have to understand homo economicus before I can explain why markets again and again lead to non-pareto-optimal results.







The most significant achievement of the modern humanities – to begin with a triviality – is that we know much more about the human mind than all previous cultures, both about its manifold functions and about their development in human history. There has never been a culture that knew anywhere near as much about its own history, and especially about the present and past of other cultures, as Western Europe has known since the 19th century. The ability to decipher lost writings and languages, to understand the different value and category systems of foreign cultures, and even to enjoy aesthetically works of art from past epochs and distant continents is one of the most impressive achievements of the modern humanities.


I have just referred to the idiographic side of the humanities, their interpretation of individual products of the human mind; but this is, as I have indicated, only possible against the horizon of general, ideally nomothetic theories. Kant’s sentence “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind,”[30] which was coined for the natural scientific experience, applies analogously also to the humanities, even if the act of interpretation itself is much more complex than that of perception, be it external, be it internal, both of which are involved in it. But once I understand what, say, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” the opening of Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet, means, the task of the interpreter has only begun – I have to formally subsume the poem under a genre, determine its role within the whole sonnet cycle, relate that cycle to earlier ones, discuss the role of homoerotic love in the Renaissance, and so on. So I can only do justice to the individual poem if I have a comprehensive system of categories at my disposal. How do we get at these categories? For reasons I cannot discuss in detail here,[31] I consider conceptual empiricism to be futile, normatively anyway – there is no conclusive way from intuitions or interpretations to concepts – but also descriptively: interesting category formations often come precisely not from those familiar with the facts, to whom, conversely, we by no means always owe original insights into new concepts. Fortunately, there are also figures in the humanities who were first-rate empiricists as well as theoreticians; but one does not do justice to the phenomenon of concept formation if one does not recognize that abstract philosophical concepts are again and again behind innovative category formations in the humanities – Hegel’s dialectical logic, for example, behind Ferdinand Tönnies’ Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. One of the most interesting periods in the history of the humanities has been, in my opinion, the second decade of the twentieth century, when there was a reaction against the mere accumulation of facts by nineteenth-century positivism, which at the end knew everything, only not what for. Instead of mere agglomeration, it was now a matter of searching for new categories. Between 1915 and 1922, four books appeared that revolutionized art history, linguistics, religious studies and sociology forever: Heinrich Wölfflin’s Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe of 1915, Ferdinand de Saussure’s posthumous Cours de linguistique générale of 1916, Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige of 1917 and Max Weber’s also posthumous magnum opus Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1921/ 22). What distinguishes these works and raises them so far above most of what was presented later in the humanities, is the perfect balance of “hermeneutic intuition” and concept, of almost incomprehensible detailed knowledge in the respective sphere of the human spirit and categorical penetration of the material; the latter leads in Otto and Weber to a comprehensive perspective on the development of intellectual history, which is interpreted as a moralizing transformation of the numinous into the sacred and as rationalization respectively. It is this balance between a wealth of detail and a view of the whole that makes the works mentioned above classics of the humanities – to introduce a term that will be discussed later.


Comprehensive humanities education is not only admirable in itself because it reveals an interest in, and ideally a respect for, other ways of being human; it also has practical relevance. (By “practical” here I do not mean “moral,” for hermeneutic skills can be used both to benefit someone and to harm them). Without a doubt, the humanities have spurred intercultural exchange, which has always existed, but which since the 19th century has enabled the new phenomenon of globalization. Of course, economic and technical factors played at least as important a role; and Ritter is certainly right when he claims[32] that the modern humanities were, among other things, a nostalgic reaction to the emergence of a global bourgeois society that largely ignores cultural differences and focuses on humans as beings with economic needs.[33] But Ritter overlooks the flipside: The humanities also facilitated this development, because at least in the beginning the new world society presupposed the order of the British Empire and other colonial empires, and it is well known how much British and French Oriental Studies of the 19th century were interwoven with imperial power interests (the German one was more theoretically oriented, because Germany had no colonies until unification in 1871, and only a few afterwards; presumably this explains the one-sidedness of Ritter’s analysis).[34] “Education is the safeguarding of the ability to emigrate,” Marquard rightly writes;[35] and the education involved is not only technical, but also humanistic; for one must not only be able to navigate across oceans, but also learn to deal with the natives if one wishes to settle in another part of the world, or even to trade with it in the long term.


Now this ability to emigrate does not only apply to those who emigrate from their own country. Those who become familiar with the enormous variety of expressions of the human spirit broaden their horizons and inevitably become involved in alternatives to the status quo and to unquestioned but questionable assumptions of their own culture. This does not at all imply that they have to consider these alternatives as equal to the fundamental convictions of their own culture. For mere existence does not mean validity. If the alternative value convictions are felt to be morally inferior and if one has mechanisms of self-assurance, for instance within the framework of a homogeneous social group which considers itself to be of divine origin, i.e. a religious community, one may avoid questioning one’s own intuitions. One may reassure oneself with an intuitionistic epistemology to the effect that without intuitions there are no insights, and one’s own intuitions are just evidently correct. Even more than the encounter with foreign cultures, the study of one’s own history is a factor of uncertainty. Not only does one recognize in one’s own tradition, if one researches without prejudice, many human-all-too-human things that one indignantly points one’s finger at when one sees them in other cultures; one finds that many of the historical justifications of one’s own religious or political convictions do not stand up to a critical historiography. Since the 18th century one knows, or can know, that the biblical texts originate from different authors with very different conceptions of God, some of them incompatible with each other, and that, for example, the Christology of the councils is not that of even one of the gospels, which in any case differ greatly from each other in their understanding of Jesus. In Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben (On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life) Friedrich Nietzsche famously distinguished three types of history: the monumental, the antiquarian and the critical. Certainly the latter is the type most likely to stand up to scholarly scrutiny, even if the political need for monumental history is still great, especially in a country like the United States that continues to consider itself called upon to exercise a hegemonic role.[36] But in an era that has witnessed the horrific abuse of heroism in the 20th century, it is increasingly difficult to do monumental history, even in literary works. Probably the ironic refraction with which Thomas Mann treats the characters Jaakob and Joseph, equally dear to the three monotheistic religions, in the Joseph novels is the highest form of intellectually responsible idealization of the past that we can still taste; for irony toward Joseph’s weaknesses and sincere admiration of the intellectual and moral achievement of monotheism balance each other perfectly in the tetralogy [Joseph and His Brothers].


An important consequence of the humanities is thus the historistic relativism that began to spread in the 19th century. It has contributed much more to the corrosion of religion than the emergence of the modern natural sciences. For while the latter only raise doubts about individual miracle stories, but are quite compatible with a monotheism – indeed, genetically probably even presuppose it – the discovery that certain rites or value convictions that claimed a sacred founding are actually of much more recent origin undermines their claims to validity, according to the criteria of religions that legitimize themselves historically. Nietzsche’s success shows that the analogous truth holds also for ethics – On the Genealogy of Morals has undoubtedly damaged ethical universalism. But is it not easy to object that Nietzsche confuses genesis and validity? Do not Vico and Hegel show that even a historical consciousness corresponding to modern standards can be made compatible with a rational theology? Certainly. But the problem is that the whole pathos of modern humanities consists in concentrating on meaning instead of truth, thus bracketing validity claims and explaining their occurrence in a causal-scientific way. Especially those who consider it their task to get a comprehensive overview of all that has ever been put forward on a certain topic will seldom have the time to get involved in the factual questions connected with the topic; the interest in the abundance of noeseis displaces that in the noemata. The highly learned historian of philosophy, who has no more interest in the systematic questions of philosophy, is a result of this emancipation of the “noetic” side of the humanities from the “noematic.” Those who have grown up in this form of thinking often have enormous difficulties in understanding questions of validity as such. The abandonment of the discussion of the truth content of theinterpretandum, if it generally leads to shrugging shoulders towards the question of truth, can in the last instance even endanger the truth claim of one’s own interpretation: For this, too, is a claim to validity, albeit a reduced one. The abandonment of this last claim to validity, namely the correctness of one’s own interpretation, is often promoted by a fallacy, such as one finds in Marquard, who derives the ambiguity of the humanities from the ambiguity of the reality of life.[37] Certainly, any hermeneutics must do justice to the phenomenon of irony, for example, and certainly the literary scholar will discover various forms of ambiguity in many significant texts.[38] Since humanities scholars are finite beings, no one will be able completely to exhaust great texts, just as no biologist  can have said everything about a single species. But for the humanities as well as for the natural sciences it is true that different interpretations can only be true at the same time if they are logically compatible with each other. To abandon this principle would mean nothing less than to deprive the humanities of their status as science and to isolate them completely from mathematics and the natural sciences, in which the distinctions between true and false and between guessed and proved enjoy obvious evidence.



The humanities have provided an understanding and, in cooperation with the social sciences, even an explanation of human behavior and the manifold products of the human mind. Thus they have overcome the provinciality that characterizes those who ascribe the self-evident beliefs of their own culture to all mankind or condemn the rest of mankind as ignorant, malicious or possessed by demons. What the humanities are not able to do, however, especially after their emancipation from German Idealism, is to decide the factual questions that are at stake in these intellectual products on very different levels. This also applies to ethical questions, in which the humanist qua humanist has no special competence. In this respect, the designation of the humanities as “moral sciences,” which was common in the English-speaking world in the 19th century (e.g., with John Stuart Mill), was misleading:[39] It made sense as long as one defended a division of knowledge trained on Aristotle and, for example, conceived of political science ultimately as part of practical philosophy or at least still of jurisprudence; under the presupposition of the value-free nature of the modern social sciences and humanities, it is downright absurd. Mind you: I do not in the least claim that modern humanities scholars are immoral people. That would be just as absurd as saying that engineers, doctors or carpenters are immoral people. But the moral insights of doctors, engineers, carpenters and even humanities scholars do not originate from their specific scientific or craft training. Even the ethical competence, which is to be distinguished from the moral competence, i.e. the ability to analyze moral claims rationally, is not peculiar to humanities scholars to a special degree. Since a study of general methodology enhances analytical skills, humanists will presumably be better at argument analysis than people without such an education; but there is not the slightest reason to assume that they are better at it than, say, mathematicians or physicists. For neither morality nor ethics can be traced back to processes of understanding, even though there is certainly a moral imperative to strive to understand other people. But this commandment itself cannot be justified by processes of understanding.


But don’t many humanities scholars – from sociologists of religion to literary scholars – describe value attitudes? Certainly. But that is quite different from doing ethics. Kant was probably the greatest ethicist of all time; but he was incompetent as a historian of value attitudes because he took the universalist ethics of the 18th century for an anthropological constant. Conversely, someone may have extraordinary skill in reconstructing the moral convictions of the Germanic peoples in the last two centuries before Christ from ancient accounts, archaeological finds, and the peculiarities of their language; but that does not make him an ethicist. (However, he must at least be able to distinguish the moral from the non-moral). But, it will be further asked, does not every historian who wants to describe a whole epoch or even longer historical courses need values to guide her selection from the material? Of course. We have already seen that fact-hoarding without categories does not produce good humanities – just as little as so-called theoretical work that is done neither before broad background knowledge in the field in question nor on the basis of familiarity with a consistent system of basic philosophic categories. But the values according to which one sifts the material are of an epistemic, not moral, nature and depend on the subjective epistemic interest that the corresponding author has. Anyone who wants to write a history of genocide in the 20th century will notbe able to avoid discussing the mass murders of Armenians, Jews, the population of Cambodia and the Tutsis. This does not mean that he evaluates them positively.


But what legitimizes the epistemological interest of humanities scholars? Are certain questions more valuable than others? In my opinion, questions of this kind can hardly be answered by means of the humanities – the humanities scholars can only clarify whether the answers given to these questions have been obtained according to the usual methods of the humanities. However, in view of the turn from noema to noesis, it is tempting to pass off as especially relevant those questions which causally link as many noetic acts as possible. Thus, it is no longer the inner content of a mental entity, but its effect that counts. The turn from the internal to the external history of knowledge as well as from the aesthetics of works of art to the aesthetics of reception belongs to this context, as does the genesis of culture studies. It is presumably true that in the last two months of 2013 more people in Germany saw Fack ju Göhte than even read Faust I; for I gather from Wikipedia that there were more than six million viewers, and I am not quite as optimistic about the second figure. Thus, it stands to reason that one should enliven German studies with conferences about this film instead of boring it with more books about Faust.


As obvious as this may be, it is, of course, wrong to say that specifically humanistic arguments are used in this case. For the implicit argument is that factual interest is the real criterion of quality, and that the present has priority over the past. These statements may be right or wrong (I consider them both wrong); but they are by no means statements that can be justified by the methods of the humanities. Also, the meta-statement that these questions are nothing but subjective opinions cannot be validated by means of the humanities; it is again a philosophical statement, whose determination requires comprehensive considerations of questions concerning theoretical legitimacy, which are not the subject of this text. What matters to me here alone is that such expressions in the humanities are inevitably based on philosophical orientations external to the humanities, which do not disappear simply because they are not explicitly considered, but are absorbed from the spirit of the times. Humanities scholars commit label fraud when they extend the legitimate assertion “Questions of value cannot be solved with the methods of the humanities” to the statement “Questions of value are completely subjective.” And they confuse all standards of rationality when they, out of the only too human need for normativity that ultimately honors them, read their subjective value convictions into texts that they no longer even interpret carefully because they have lost faith in the fact that there are correct and incorrect interpretations. The literary scholar, for example, should be competent in mastering the specific techniques with which literature manages to make fictional worlds appear before us. He does not need to tell us how he thinks about economic policy, not because he has no right to economic policy opinions, but because his opinions on these questions, unlike those of the economist and business ethicist, enjoy no more authority than those of any non-academic. He can express them, of course, but not with the authority of the professor, which he is entitled to in another field. He even endangers his authority in this other field if, in order to catch the attention of the mass media, he reads into the interpretanda things that are not found there but find general approval as politically correct today, and in the end even loses interest in the specific categories of his discipline. If one plays the role of a would-be political scientist for too long, one risks forfeiting the specific literary competence that one had once acquired.



Those who have followed me so far may be confused. On the one hand, I seem to criticize the modern humanities because they no longer know how to answer normative questions and lead to paralysis: One can imagine oneself into all sorts of things, but no longer knows the one that is needed; one believes in a thousand cultural products at a thousandth each, but in none entirely. On the other hand, I reject the tendencies of actualization, in which contemporary scholars of the humanities misuse products of the past spirit in order to curry favor with the hegemonic powers of a culture by posing as a megaphone of what is seasonable morally-politically or with regard to entertainment needs. However, there is no contradiction between the two positions. Indeed, I believe that the humanities can only be rescued from their increasing insignificance if they engage in normative questions – but it is not the humanities’ methods by which this can be done. The humanities need a normative foundation that does not come from within themselves; only in connection with this can they escape the self-dissolution that otherwise threatens them.


In fact, in some disciplines of the humanities it is immediately obvious that one cannot be successful in them with humanistic methods alone. I do not want to discuss here the entry of methods from the natural sciences into the humanities, which are often useful and sometimes indispensable, because the interpretandum is always a physical object: One thinks, among other things, of the radiocarbon method for dating in archeology or also of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s discovery of the parallels between the genetic degree of relationship of different peoples and the degree of relationship of the languages spoken by them.[40] Nor am I concerned here with the fact that man is an organism and thus a result of the evolution of life, so that presumably some of his behavior has biological roots, or with the fact, strictly distinguishable from this, that the principle of natural selection overlaps nature and culture and thus also applies to cultural evolution, which thus shows parallels to biological evolution. No, what I want to draw attention to is not the basis of intention in the res extensa, but rather its noematic moment. Certainly the noema of an interpretandum can itself be accessible to the method of understanding. Whoever writes a history of hermeneutics, for instance, must interpret on two levels: He must read the texts that are his direct interpretanda, and in order to evaluate their hermeneutic quality, he must himself set about interpreting the interpretanda of his direct interpretanda. (Interpretation is obviously a multilevel business.) That, however, is quite different in the case of the history of mathematics: Whoever wants to do research on Apollonius of Perga must master two quite different methods: he must have hermeneutic competences in order to interpret the Greek text correctly, and he must have mathematical intelligence in order to understand what Apollonius is about. The one who cannot think mathematically stands before the Conica as before an encoded book – no different from the one who has not learned Greek.


Thus, the humanities must have more than humanities competencies in order to do justice to their task, at least for many of their interpretanda. They blatantly fail in their task if they focus only on the act of saying and ignore what is said. For most people who express themselves want to express something that transcends them, and the very person who is interested only in their subjective activity, and not its object, does not really take them seriously. But does this mean that one must share Aristotle’s natural philosophy in order to understand it? Certainly not. For to take an author seriously does not mean to follow him; whoever takes his claim to truth seriously has rather the duty to contradict him where his arguments do not hold. But even the one who considers the Physics to be outdated by the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century can and must acknowledge its inner conclusiveness, the enormous achievement in the formation of categories, and the often stringent criticism of earlier natural philosophical conceptions. This is true even for fictional texts, at least if their author claims to tell the truth precisely by transcending the factual. Whoever approaches Dante only as a literary scholar, for example, will not have been affected by the work in the way that was Dante’s real objective. Of course, one does not need to believe in Dante’s geography of the Inferno or in the Ptolemaic world view in order to understand Dante’s Commedia. But the interpreter of Dante must have a sense for a moral interpretation of the universe; if he also lacks this sense, the work will have only historical interest for him and thus lose its classic status. For classical are those texts which, in a sense, always remain our contemporaries, from which, and not about which, we wish to learn. Nothing is more ridiculous than, in order to remain au courant, to chase after the latest publications, the majority of which in ten or five years’ time (the time periods themselves are becoming shorter and shorter) will be replaced by equally short-winded products, and this at the price of ignoring even those texts which will remain classics for millennia to come. In the natural sciences such a behavior may be acceptable, because in them a relatively continuous progress takes place; but in art and philosophy such a progress is not to be found with the best will.


But what makes a classic a classic? One should not define classics primarily by their long-term impact, which is itself subject to the question of whether or not it was legitimate; someone is a classic because of the quality of his or her contribution to solving a problem.[41] Nevertheless, it remains true that the likelihood of a work having high value increases if this is consistently ascribed to it over a long period of time; for even if the majority is not right as such, since many people simply follow the opinions they perceive as prevailing, fashions are short-lived and revolts against them natural. Therefore, if an author has survived many such revolts, it is probably due to some intrinsic value. However, this must always be concretely demonstrated. Since classics thus often originate from the past, their adequate understanding requires not only factual competence but also the specific hermeneutic competence that is the very specific feature of the humanities.


What, then, is the future of the humanities dependent on? First of all, they must not give up their hermeneutic competence; they must maintain the standards that have been developed since the 17th century in order to make the mens auctoris [mind of the author] accessible. To abandon them in order to follow fashionable theories is nothing less than suicidal. It is to the honor of the human mind that it is able to open up mental products even from completely different times and cultures, including such great ones as the Gilgamesh epic. Even if the contents of these products may be disappointing, as at first sight those of the clay tablets in Linear B, which are linguistically highly significant and tell us something about the economic structure of the Mycenaean world, but noematically do not come close to what the later Greek world produced, the formal act of recognizing in a foreign artefact mind related to one’s own mind is always worthy of respect, especially since the careful interpreter can also make at least parts of a mental world emerge from those tablets, by developing what is implied in them. Secondly, the humanist should have an expertise in the question with which his interpretandum is concerned. For this he often enough has to master another discipline outside of her discipline; but this can only be good for the humanities, whose increasing self-indulgence in the end betrays the essence of the mind, which as intentional always refers to something and always deals with something. Certainly, it is essential for the mind to thematize itself as well; but it can do so only because it has initially directed itself to something external. The first understandable utterances must have inevitably referred to something physical. Thirdly, humanities scholars should devote special attention to those texts that manifest and train greater factual competence, i.e. they should make the classics their preferred objects of study. This is true even if the selection of interpretanda leads to unequal treatment of cultures or of one sex; for only by studying internally significant interpretanda do those who have hitherto been unjustly disadvantaged in history have a chance of achieving intellectual equality. Fourthly and finally, the humanist should have a sufficiently elaborated concept of the mind. The humanities are not the same as philosophy of mind; but humanities scholars should have some familiarity with issues such as the mind-body problem, the question of meaning, the nature of developmental laws of the mind. And they must know that mind is not mind if it does not recognize a moral order in confrontation with which its historical unfolding takes place. Certainly, philosophers do not agree on these questions; but this does not relieve one of the responsibility to get an overview of the main solutions. It may even be that preoccupation with the metaphysics of mind leads the humanities scholar to find also in the meaning of pre-Enlightenment religions something that, despite all circularity of arguments, contradictoriness in the conception of God and scientifically untenable hermeneutics, is related in essence to the noema, to which he knows himself to be bound, provided he wants to take his own activity seriously: the idea that the ultimate ground of reality is a mind, which transcends nature and the finite minds that develop within it and which somehow catches up with itself in the self-awareness of the finite mind that occurs within the world.


Translated by R. Bradley Holden, Ph.D. and Samuel J. Loncar. Ph.D..



After the completion of this essay (2014), my comprehensive study Kritik der verstehenden Vernunft [Critique of the Understanding Reason] appeared in 2018, in which many reasons were explained that could only be sketched here.


Vittorio G. Hösle is the Paul Kimball Professor of Arts and Letters, Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures, Concurrent Professor of Philosophy and of Political Science at Notre Dame. His scholarly interests are in the areas of systematic philosophy (metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, political theory) and the history of philosophy (mainly ancient and modern). He has recently published a book on philosophical literature, Philosophische Literatur-Interpretationen von Dante bis le Carré (2023), and one on the Ukraine War, Mit dem Rücken zu Russland. Der Ukrainekrieg und die Fehler des Westens (2022). This year he has published with Jieon Kim a translation of the Commentary on the Song of Songs by Rupert of Deutz. Hösle has written or edited 57 books and published nearly 200 articles. His work has appeared in 20 languages. Among other prizes and awards, he received the Fritz-Winter Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and has had visiting professorships in many countries and fellowships at various institutions, such as the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.



End Notes

[1] On the inevitability of the humanities, see Marquard (1986).

[2] Cf. Ritter (1974).

[3] Marquand (1986), 99f.

[4] For the following, see the detailed analyses (with precise references) in my essay: Hösle (2014).

[5] Politeia 528a f., 530c f.

[6] Metaphysics 1025b25, 1063b35 ff.

[7] Söffing (1981), 29.

[8] Because of Plato’s distinction of the still very young stereometry from the two-dimensional geometry it is actually a quinquivium.

[9] Thus Hippias of Elis seems to have divided his lessons accordingly (Plato, Protagoras 318e).

[10] The canon of the seven artes liberales, however, is not generally recognized until late antiquity, e.g., in Martianus Capella; the term “trivium” for the three non-scientific disciplines is even Carolingian. But already in Varros’ Disciplinaewe find these seven sciences, but also medicine and architecture. Sextus Empiricus’ Adversus mathematicos deals with six of the artes liberales, but not with logic, because that is criticized with ethics and physics in Adversus dogmaticos.

[11] Cf. the following paragraphs in the canonical numbering of Fausto Nicolini’s edition of the third edition: 2, 331, 349.

[12] In De lingua Latina V 96 Varro casually points out similarities between Greek and Latin animal names, but wants to explain them onomatopoetically. V 103 and VI 96 are about supposed loan words from Greek.

[13] One could cite Herodotus’ Histories as an exception. But one should not forget that the goal and focus of the book is the representation of the Greek victory over the Persians (I 1). Egypt also belonged to the Persian Empire, which is therefore also depicted.

[14] Cf. Ethica I 21 ff, especially I 28.

[15] See Frei (1974).

[16] Gehlen (13th ed., 1986), 386.

[17] This was already correctly seen by Martin Heidegger in Heidegger (8th ed., 2003).

[18] Carsten Dutt has very competently pointed out the important differences between Ritter’s compensation theories and those of his students Marquand and Hermann Lübbe: Cf. Dutt (2008). Ritter recognizes much more clearly than his students the theoretical, indeed, end-in-itself character of the modern humanities. But his historical reconstruction suffers from skipping the period between Aristotle and Hegel; this gap was to be filled here. The father of compensation theory is Gehlen (cf. Gehlen [1986], 392), who interprets historical-psychological consciousness as a “compensatory movement” against institutional decay and social disintegration, which it simultaneously accelerates.

[19] Something analogous to the emergence of modern historical sciences also applies to nineteenth-century nationalism, of which E. Gellner aptly writes that it preaches continuity but owes its existence to one of the greatest ruptures in human history (cf. Gellner [13th ed., 1983], 125).

[20] See § 384 of the third edition of the Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften.

[21] For the development of value-free social sciences see my essay: Hösle (1999).

[22] I take the term from Taylor (2007).

[23] Dilthey (5th ed., 1968), 81 f.

[24] See Davidson (2nd ed., 2001).

[25] This is implicit in Max Weber’s classic treatises “Die ‘Objektivität’ sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozialpolitischer Erkenntis” (“The ‘Objectivity’ of the Sociological and Social-Political Knowledge”) from 1904 and “Der Sinn der ‘Wertfreiheit’ der soziologischen und ökonomischen Wissenschaften” (“The Meaning of ‘Value Freedom’ in the Sociological and Economic Sciences”) from 1917.

[26] See von Wright (1971); Apel (1979).

[27] Cf. Hempel (1965).

[28] See my comments in Hösle (1997), 208 ff, especially 226 ff.

[29] Windelband (4th ed., 1911), 136-160.

[30] Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 75/A 48.

[31] See von Kutschera (1982), 438 ff.

[32] Ritter (1974), 128 ff.

[33] In addition, the acceleration of the course of history gives the historical humanities a special role; cf. Koselleck/Dutt (2013), 66 f., where Koselleck refers to ch. XXXIV of Henry Adams’ autobiography, in which perhaps for the first time the “law of acceleration” is enunciated.

[34] Cf. Said (1978). On specifically German Oriental studies, see my essay: Hösle (2013).

[35] Cf. Marquand (1986), 110.

[36] This explains why certain facts of American history are still taboo: Consider the mass shootings of Japanese prisoners of war in World War II. On this, see Dower (1986).

[37] Cf. Marquand (1986), 107 ff.

[38] See, for example, Empson (1949).

[39] According to E. Rothacker (1947), 6, perhaps in I. Schiel’s 1849 translation of Mill’s A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive the term Geisteswissenschaften first appears in the plural.

[40] E. J. M. Witzel’s great attempt to reconstruct the oldest human myths (Witzel [2012]) draws on linguistics, physical anthropology, genetics, and archaeology, among others (cf. Witzel [2012], 187 ff.).

[41] Cf. my essay: Hösle (2004).


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