Dilthey and Human Science: Autobiography, Hermeneutics and Pedagogy


  • Norm Friesen Boise State University




Using Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as an example, this paper introduces Wilhlem Dilthey’s (1833–1911) hermeneutics and pedagogical theory. Dilthey saw biographies (and autobiographies like Angelou’s) as nothing less than “the highest and most instructive form of the understanding of life.” This, then, serves as the starting point for his hermeneutics or theory of understanding, which distinguishes humanistic understanding from scientific explanation, and sees any one moment or word as having meaning only in relation to a whole—the whole of a sentence or text, or the whole of one’s life. It is also the starting point of his pedagogy, whose ultimate “duty” is “to develop the child as a person who carries their own purpose within themselves.” In introducing Dilthey’s hermeneutic pedagogy, this paper draws principally from his The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences (1927/2002), a text that has been long neglected in hermeneutic and phenomenological studies of education.