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In the German-speaking tradition of thought, the term humanities ( s ) is a collective term for currently around 40 different individual sciences ("disciplines") that use different methods to deal with subject areas that deal with cultural , intellectual , media , sometimes also social or sociological , historical , political and religious phenomena. Most of the humanities also practice anthropology to a certain extent , since people and their works are the focus in all disciplines (→  anthropology ). Wilhelm Dilthey sought a uniform justification of the humanities on the basis of a philosophical doctrine of the meaning and understanding of expressions of life ( hermeneutics ).


Concept history

The word "Geisteswissenschaft" (Spiritual Science) is already in an anonymous pamphlet written in 1787 with the title Who are the Enlighteners? occupied. It says: “When I say, clergymen who have been instructed very carefully in the study of God and spiritual science…” The author is also referring to a theory of the “pneumatology of the spirit”. This means a science that gives explanations that refer not to natural, but "spiritual" causes. In this sense also z. B. Gottsched of a "spirit teaching".

Fritz van Calker and Friedrich Schlegel use “humanities” as a synonym for philosophy in general.

Closer to the current sense of the word is what David Hume means by “moral philosophy”, what Jeremy Bentham differentiates as “ pneumatology ” from “ somatology ” and what Ampère calls “noology” as opposed to “cosmology”. In his system of deductive and inductive logic from 1843, John Stuart Mill uses “moral sciences” to describe the disciplines of psychology , ethology and sociology . Mill relates inductive logic to the acquisition of data from historical and social phenomena, which is why moral sciences are as imprecise as e.g. B. Meteorology. Jacob Heinrich Wilhelm Schiel had set “Geisteswissenschaft” for moral sciences in a first translation (no longer in the second). This usage may have been influential, but the German expression was not coined as a loan translation from Mill, as was often assumed in the past, but can be found earlier, as indicated.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Franz Hillebrand and other German authors speak of a doctrine of the humanities or humanities. Hegel's concept of spirit does not only refer to individuals, but also to groups and, as an objective spirit, to the world in general.

Roughly in today's sense, the word "humanities" occurs with the otherwise unknown Ernst Adolf Eduard Calinich (born March 25, 1806 in Bautzen - 1824 student phil. In Leipzig, member of the Lausitzer Preacher Society - 1844 deputy director of the seminary in Dresden), who in 1847 differentiates between the "scientific and the humanities method", a duality that WJA Werber also mentioned unspecifically in 1824.

The expression "humanities" gets its conciseness mainly from Wilhelm Dilthey ( Introduction to the humanities , 1883) and is closely connected with the political and university requirements in the German-speaking area.

A defining factor is u. a. the training of the historical school in the wake and a. by Friedrich Carl von Savigny , Leopold von Ranke and Johann Gustav Droysen , who a. a. zu Hegel provides an ideal for more precise determination of the methodological proprium of "humanities".

Dilthey defined the humanities in sharp contrast to the natural sciences through their own method of understanding, as hermeneutics had also become common outside of philology since Friedrich Schleiermacher . Dilthey sought to establish it as the “empirical science of spiritual phenomena” or as the “science of the spiritual world”. It should empirically expand an originally conceived “Critique of Historical Reason”.

Dilthey took up Hegel's concept of spirit to form the word “humanities”. Hegel referred the term " spirit " to the "spiritual life" of a group, a people or a culture. The term is therefore strongly tied to the German idealistic tradition and Hegel's concept of the objective-objectified spirit. To this day, this is the reason why it can hardly be translated. Common analogues are humanities , (liberal) arts and human studies . The French analogue is mostly sciences humaines .

The opposing pairs of spirit – nature, history – natural science, understanding – explanation were important for the early conception of the humanities. While natural science tried to explain nature on the basis of eternal laws , it was seen as the task of a historically oriented spiritual science to understand the spiritual life of past peoples in their uniqueness .

At the middle and end of the 19th century, many authors also orientated themselves on the Kantian epistemology and v. a. on so-called psychologism . Wilhelm Wundt , for example, defines that the humanities begin “where the human being, as a willing and thinking subject, is an essential factor in phenomena”. Theodor Lipps defined - in relation to the individual - “spiritual science” as the “science of inner experience”. He considered the individual “inner experience” to be the basic standard of epistemology, logic, psychology and perception. Similar to the " Southwest German School " of Neo-Kantianism ( Wilhelm Windelband , Heinrich Rickert ). In the sense of psychologism and historical school, the following is postulated: the humanities are ideographic, not nomothetic (diaper band); they are individualizing and value-related, not generalizing (H. Rickert), “aimed at historical uniqueness and not just at regularities”. Rickert calls the humanities, because he relates them to cultural values, also "cultural studies". Even Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch have this philosophy of values close.

The Marburg School ( Hermann Cohen and others), on the other hand, sees the logic of the humanities in law .

Around 1900 the concept of spirit in philosophy of life u. a. Diltheys was largely influential, for example with philosophers and educators such as Nicolai Hartmann , Otto Friedrich Bollnow , Eduard Spranger , Theodor Litt , Herman Nohl , Georg Misch , Hans Freyer and Erich Rothacker .

In the wake of Left Hegelianism , the term “humanities” customary according to Hegel and the philosophy of life was largely replaced by “social sciences” or “social sciences” in Marxist language in the middle of the 20th century .

In the German language, the term includes all sciences that are not natural sciences (with the exception of mathematics), i.e. all that are cultivated in the theological, legal and philosophical (i.e. philological-historical) faculties ”.

Even if in the humanities it is still assumed today that cultural contexts of meaning, structures of meaning, modes of understanding and perception cannot be dealt with solely in the context of a scientific approach, the strong opposition between the disciplines has now disappeared and attempts are made to use interdisciplinary ones Approaches to combine both approaches.

"Today the humanities and natural sciences are related to each other like the ruler and government in a constitutional monarchy."

Social background

Beyond these epistemological discussions, however, political and social intentions also led to such conclusions: The usefulness of technical innovations belied the failed social consensus after the July Revolution of 1830 and the March Revolution of 1848 . The emerging natural and engineering sciences at least superficially supported the restorative power of late absolutism. Hermeneutics, on the other hand, has to do with a consensus of observers that is constantly to be found and maintained and eludes empirical verifiability in securing evidence or experiments that have been successfully played off against older scientific methods. In order to meet the growing demand for value freedom and objectivity , however, hermeneutics also had to make increasing use of forensic evidence. Dilthey found this concept of a science worth defending.

The boom in the natural sciences since the beginning of the 19th century was accompanied by the development of new disciplines within the framework of the old philosophy faculty, which were characterized by rigorous methodology ; the old unity was irretrievably lost. A large part of the old subjects was thus called into question. The concept of the humanities helped them hold their own and modernize. The old faculty studies of theology and law have successfully redefined themselves as the humanities.

A similar and parallel distinction is that between nomothetic (“rule-setting”) and idiographic (“descriptive”) sciences, which sometimes serves to delimit the social sciences as nomothetic. It goes back to Wilhelm Windelband .

Another important factor in the development of the humanities was the relationship between the university and the state : in the 19th century, bourgeois scholars, artists and writers had created a nobility and a high culture , and this “spirit” applied not least to the ruling upper class to claim. The nobility, on the other hand, did not need a reputation through artistic or scientific activity. He withdrew and leaned toward popular entertainment.

Whether a historicity of “soul processes” (Dilthey) can be something collective was not least a political attitude. Georg Friedrich Hegel viewed the mind as something super-individual, not just subjective. This met with broad approval in a time of the lack of state unity and the unsuccessful emancipation of the bourgeoisie from the particular interests of the nobility. More than in other linguistic areas, the will and action (“working”) of a communal spirit has been asserted in German. General terms such as Zeitgeist , “Spirit of a nation ”, “Spirit of an era ” emerged from this tradition . Max Weber spoke of a "spirit" of capitalism ( The Protestant ethics and the "spirit" of capitalism , 1904/05).

This concept of the spirit, which turns institutions, structures and explanatory patterns into something that is living in itself, has not remained undisputed. So there was always the accusation that the traditional authorities had de facto been replaced by technical and bureaucratic apparatuses that made free will a practical constraint . Friedrich Kittler took a similar view when he called for an “expulsion of the spirit from the humanities”.

In the interdisciplinary scale action Ritterbusch humanities were involved in the nationalist ideology of National Socialism and the glorification of war.

As a countermovement after the Second World War, there was strong individualization. The scientific appreciation of great personalities and their works sometimes ignored their historical constraints. In literary studies, the work-immanent interpretation became common.

The title of the 1959 published thesis of the two cultures of CP Snow became the slogan: Humanities (English humanities ) and sciences separate incompatible scientific cultures that face each other in such a diametrically that communication seems impossible. In response to this well-received study, John Brockman's The Third Culture appeared in 1995 as a vision of mediation between the sciences.

Current determination of the humanities

Scientific structure

As the history of the term illustrates, the term “humanities” has experienced variable usage. The variety of different individual sciences has continued to increase up to the present day, with different institutional systematics emerging, for example with regard to the different administrative merging of university departments and faculties.

The various collective terms used today include, for example, in addition to "humanities" terms such as social sciences , natural sciences , human sciences (sciences that have any aspect of human beings as an object of investigation, such as human biology , medicine, etc. in addition to humanities and social sciences ), cultural sciences , life sciences , etc. Here too consists in detail and in borderline cases, v. a. As far as newer interdisciplinary subjects and courses are concerned, there is no consensus on the definition or scope of the term, i.e. in particular on which factual courses of study belong under which of these collective terms and for which criteria.

For example, the theologian Arno Anzenbacher proposed the following scientific structure in 1981:

Numerous theorists and a large number of institutes do not count either the social and economic sciences or the human sciences (in the narrower sense) among the humanities.

Task of the humanities

In 1986, Odo Marquard advocated the thesis that it was the task of the humanities to offer an asylum for culture and tradition in the face of ongoing upheaval and modernization of living conditions in a technical and civilizing society and thus make modernization bearable:

“The humanities help traditions so people can endure modernization; they are [...] not hostile to modernization, but rather - as compensation for the damage caused by modernization - making modernization possible. For this they need the art of re-familiarizing the world of origin that has become strange. "

Prominent scholars such as Wolfgang Frühwald , Hans Robert Jauß and Reinhart Koselleck called for an increased reorientation of the humanities towards cultural studies in the early 1990s . In their memorandum "Humanities Today" as the result of a research project by the Science Council and the West German Rectors' Conference in 1991 they determine the task and future of the humanities as follows:

“The humanities are the 'place' where modern societies acquire knowledge of themselves in scientific form. [...] it is their task to do this in such a way that their focus is on the cultural whole, on culture as the epitome of all human work and forms of life, on the cultural form of the world, including the natural sciences and themselves. "

When asked about the future of the humanities in an increasingly mechanized environment, Norbert Schneider, at that time (2009) head of the Institute for Art History at the University of Karlsruhe, which was threatened with closure, answered:

“In any case, there was and is a large fraction within the technical and scientific disciplines that […] overlooks the eminently important function of the humanities, which largely preserve the historical and cultural heritage, including that of technical and scientific achievements, e . B. in the history of science, in which, among other things, the history of art is significantly involved. In addition, the humanities maintain a lively reflection on the self-understanding of society that goes beyond pure efficiency thinking. "


Hans Albert criticized the methodological claim to autonomy of the humanities as such. In contrast, he takes the view that there is basically only one uniform method for science. In doing so, however, he in no way denies that (meaning) understanding has a specific function for the humanities; only, according to Albert, this is not a methodological one, but a function comparable to the role of perception in the natural sciences, a “special case of perception”.


Overview representations

  • Wilhelm Dilthey : Introduction to the humanities . First edition 1883. Stuttgart 1922. ( Text at )
  • Wilhelm Dilthey; Manfred Riedel (ed.): The structure of the historical world in the humanities . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1970, ISBN 3-518-27954-8 .
  • Carl Friedrich Gethmann a . a .: Manifesto Humanities of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences.
  • Jörg Schreiter: Hermeneutics - Truth and Understanding. Presentation and texts. Studies on late bourgeois ideology . Akademieverlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-05-000664-1 .
  • Gunter Scholz: Between scientific demands and the need for orientation. On the basis and change in the humanities . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-518-28566-1 .
  • Bernward Grünewald: Spirit - Culture - Society. Attempt of a principle theory of the humanities based on transcendental philosophy . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-428-13160-0 .
  • Julian Hamann: The education of the humanities. On the genesis of a social construction between discourse and field . UVK, Konstanz 2014, ISBN 978-3-86764-523-2 .

Reform debate

  • Ulrich Arnswald (Hrsg.): The future of the humanities. Manutius, Heidelberg 2005, ISBN 3-934877-33-8 .
  • Jörg-Dieter Gauger , Günther Rüther (Eds.): Why the humanities have a future! A contribution to the 2007 Science Year . Herder, Freiburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-451-29822-6 .
  • Ludger Heidbrink, Harald Welzer (ed.): End of modesty. To improve humanities and cultural studies . CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-55954-9 .
  • Klaus W. Hempfer, Philipp Antony (Ed.): On the situation of the humanities in research and teaching. An inventory of university practice . Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-515-09379-8 . ( Review )
  • Hans Joas , Jörg Noller (Ed.): Spiritual Science - What Remains? Between theory, tradition and transformation (= Spirit and Spiritual Science , Vol. 5). Alber, Freiburg - Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-495-49068-6 .
  • Florian Keisinger (Ed.): Why humanities? Controversial arguments for an overdue debate . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-593-37336-X .
  • Bernadette Malinowski (ed.): In conversation: Problems and perspectives in the humanities. (= Writings of the Philosophical Faculties of the University of Augsburg. Number 72. Linguistic and literary series). Vögel, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-89650-221-2 .

Further individual aspects

  • Frank-Rutger Hausmann (ed.): The role of the humanities in the Third Reich 1933–1945 (= writings of the Historical College. Volume 53). Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-486-56639-3 .
  • Till R. Kuhnle: Plaidoyer pour les intellectuels? A polemic about the humanities. In: Crossing borders. Contributions to a modern Romance studies. Number 18, Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2002, pp. 138–146.
  • Walfried Linden, Alfred Fleissner (ed.): Spirit, soul and brain. Draft of a common image of man by neurobiologists and humanities scholars. Lit, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-7973-9 .
  • Dieter Teichert : The benefits and disadvantages of the humanities. In: G. Wolters, M. Carrier (eds.): Homo sapiens and Homo faber. Epistemic and technical rationality in antiquity and the present (FS J. Mittelstrass). De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, 405-420.

Web links

Wiktionary: Humanities  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See the list of disciplines in the Lexicon of the Humanities (PDF; 1.3 MB).
  2. a b c d A. Diemer: Geisteswissenschaften. In: HWPh . Volume 3, p. 211.
  3. a b after A. Diemer: Geisteswissenschaften. In: HWPh. Volume 3, p. 211.
  4. Oeuvres de J. Bentham 1829, Volume 3, 311; here to Rudolf Eisler : Humanities. In: Dictionary of Philosophical Terms. Volume 1, p. 368.
  5. Essai sur la philosophie des sciences 1834; n. Eisler, lc
  6. See the digitized full text of System, § 6.3 , at [1]
  7. See A. Diemer: Geisteswissenschaften. In: HWPh. Volume 3, p. 211 .; Hans-Georg Gadamer : Humanities. In: RGG . 3. Edition. Volume 2, p. 1304.
  8. HWPh. Volume 3, p. 212.
  9. Logic, Volume 2, 18; n. Eisler
  10. Cf. Theodor Lipps: Grundtatsachen des Seelenleben. Bonn 1883, p. 3.
  11. Jump up ↑ Limits of Scientific Concept Formation, 1896.
  12. RGG 3, Volume 2, 1304.
  13. RGG 3, Volume 2, 1307.
  14. ^ Gadamer, RGG 3, Volume 2, 1306.
  15. ^ Gadamer, RGG 3, Volume 2, 1304.
  16. ^ Klaus Sochatzy : Adnotations. Counter-speech against speeches and talk. Aphorisms. Rita G. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1979, ISBN 3-88323-100-2 , p. 78.
  17. ^ Rudolf Stichweh: On the emergence of the modern system of scientific disciplines: Physics in Germany 1740–1890. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1984.
  18. Friedrich Kittler : Expulsion of the spirit from the humanities. Post-structuralism programs . Schöningh, Paderborn 1980, ISBN 3-506-99293-7 .
  19. ^ Charles Percy Snow: The Two Cultures . 1959. In: Helmut Kreuzer (Ed.): The two cultures. Munich 1987.
  20. John Brockman : The third culture, The worldview of modern science. Munich 1996, ISBN 3-442-72035-4 .
  21. after Arno Anzenbacher : Introduction to Philosophy. Herder, Wien et al. 1981, p. 22.
  22. Odo Marquart: About the inevitability of the humanities. In: Ders .: Apology of the Accidental. Philosophical Studies . Stuttgart 1986, p. 105.
  23. Wolfgang Frühwald, Hans Robert Jauß, Reinhart Koselleck, Jürgen Mittelstraß, Burkhart Steinwachs: Geisteswissenschaften today . Frankfurt am Main 1991, p. 51f.
  24. Norbert Schneider quoted from: Ka.mpus
  25. Hans Albert: Theory, Understanding and History - To the criticism of the methodological claim to autonomy in the so-called human sciences. In: Journal for general philosophy of science . 1, 1970.
  26. Hans Albert: Critique of the pure hermeneutics. The anti-realism and the problem of understanding. JCB Mohr, Tübingen 1994, p. 103.