Front. Philos. China 2009, 4(1): 143–155 DOI 10.



ZHANG Shiying

The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences — A tentative linkage of Hegel, Dilthey, and Husserl
© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag 2009

Abstract Early in Aristotle’s terminology, and ever since, “essence” has been conceived as having two meanings, namely “universality” and “individuality”. According to the tradition of thought that has dominated throughout the history of Western philosophy, “essence” unequivocally refers to “universality”. As a matter of fact, however, “universality” cannot cover Aristotle’s definition and formulation of “essence”: Essence is what makes a thing “happen to be this thing.” “Individuality” should be the deep meaning of “essence”. By means of an analysis of some relevant Western thoughts and a review of cultural realities, it can be concluded that the difference between the attitudes toward things of the natural sciences and the humane sciences mainly lies in the fact that the former focus on the pursuit of universal regularity, whereas the latter go after the value and significance of human life. The movement from natural things to cultural things is a process in which essence shifts from universality to individuality. It is the author’s contention that what should be stressed in the fields of human culture and society is the construction of an ideal society that is “harmonious yet not identical”, on the basis of respecting and developing individual peculiarity and otherness. Keywords culture essence, universality, individuality, natural science, human science,

摘要 “本质”最早在亚里士多德的用语中包含有两重含义:一是指“普遍的东 西”(“共相”),一是指“个体的东西”(“这个”)。在西方哲学史上长期占统治 地位的思想片面地认为:“本质”就是指“普遍的东西”。但实际上,“普遍的东
Translated by Zhang Lin from Beijing daxue xuebao 北京大学学报 (Journal of Peking University), 2007, (11): 23–29 ZHANG Shiying () Department of Philosophy, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China E-mail:

first used by Aristotle and meaning the original being of a thing. the “essence” of Aristotle refers to universality in that both “genus” and “species” are universals. to the idea or meaning of a thing. etc. is the earliest theory stressing the issue of universality (Russell 1963. to a species of a genus. Aristotle often used to ti en einai and ousia interchangeably. while “with two feet” is its “species”. According to Plato. viz. character.后者重个体性的人生价值意义的追求。 从自然物到文化物是一个由以普遍性为本质到以个体性为本质的转化过程。在人文 社会领域应该强调的是: 在尊重和发扬个人的独特性和差异性的基础上. the nearer it approaches the individual. The theory of ideas presented by Plato. whether “form” is universal or individual is still at issue in that “a species of a genus” can be sub-categorized into more levels. to reality with its opposite as appearance or the universal (universality). Aristotle’s instructor. 1030a11–13. (Schimidt 1978. 6). The lower the level of a species is. these meanings are still within the scope of the question left by Aristotle: Namely. in the statement that a “human being is an animal with two feet. However. 1037b14–21). “essence” began to appear with multiple meanings: It might refer to an individual thing or the character of a thing. p. 727).建立“和而 不同”的理想社会。 关键词 本质,普遍性,个体性,自然科学,人文科学,文化 1 The word “essence” (“Wesen” in German) that is translated into Chinese as 本质 originated from the Greek to ti en einai.144 ZHANG Shiying 西”并不能涵盖亚里士多德对“本质”的界定和表述:本质是使一事物“恰恰地是 这个事物”的东西。“本质”的深层含义应是“个体性”。通过对西方一些相关思 想观点的分析和文化现实的考察,可以得出结论:自然科学与人文科学对待事物的 态度的区别在于:前者重普遍性规律的追求. the nature. Vol. the individual rather than the universal. z.” contending that the essence of a thing is its “species of a genus” (genous eidon). hence the “form” becomes an individual (Aristotle 1959. 1038a9–35). Summed up.” “animal” is the “genus”. Aristotle focuses on issues concerning “essence. Wu Shoupeng translated it into “zenshi 怎是” (Aristotle 1959. In the history of Western philosophy after Aristotle. and reality of a thing lie in universality whereas an individual thing is unreal. 169). For example. and a “human being is an animal with two feet” tells of the essence of a human being (Aristotle 1959. As a consequence. Thus. “essence” becomes “this”. they either hold that essence is individual or insist that essence is universal (universality). p. For one thing. In Chapter 4–6 of volume Z of his Metaphysics. In . “A species of a genus” also refers to what is called “form” by Aristotle. p. Aristotle failed to offer a precise answer as to whether “essence” is universal or individual.

the universal concept “plant” indicates their essence. what “defines” (“gives a definition to”) a thing (Aristotle 1959. Platonism has governed Western philosophy for several thousand years. and hence deepen our cognition of things. 1030a6–7. Plato once said that “the interest and the work of philosophy” (“das Interesse und das Geschäft der Philosophyie”) consist in the “cognition” of “species and genus” (“die Gattungen”) (Hegel 1970b.” Just as Hegel contends. deeper. 1030a3–5). Anything in the world. merely saying that a “Confucian temple is a temple” fails to demonstrate that a Confucian temple happens to be the essence of itself rather than the essence of a common temple. “ideas. deduction. the meaning of a thing and our thought can only be expressed by language meaning universality in lieu of those proper names meaning individual things. and broader than that pursued by mathematics and science. induction. z. “Species and genus” are universals called. we may ask. Plato’s celebrated thesis. 59). does the essence of things only stop at the phase of universality? As stated by Aristotle.The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences 145 Russell’s opinion. in our process of cognition. p.” we may press: is “temple”. to wit. 63).” universality can only demonstrate the superficial essence of a thing. by Plato. To be sure. when we recognize the universality of various individual things. Art): “Idea is of course species or genus. p. is unique.. and hence the main school of thought in Western philosophy holds that “essence” is universality. However. the universality of idea pursued by philosophy is far higher. In this way. “the interest and task of philosophy lies in recognizing universal things. the natural sciences focus their research on finding out universality by means of various methods (experiment. “essence” is what makes a thing “be” a thing. insofar as its peculiarity is concerned. we would grasp the essence of them to a certain extent. 1031a12). This perspective treating universality as the essence of things has undoubtedly contributed much to the development of Western natural science. It follows that instead of giving the most exact and the deepest essence of “the thing happening to be this thing.). that which makes a Confucian temple “happen to be” the essence of itself? Obviously.” and “is usually named universality” (Ibid. although according to Plato. that is. universality. this is what people sometimes translate into species or genus (Gattung. Vol. can a thing be defined only by means of universality? Can universality “happen to” define “this thing”? Take a “Confucian temple” for example: If people designate the essence of it only by “temple” before confirming that a “Confucian temple is a temple. etc. Take for instance a flower and tree: When both of them are plants. the universal. Universality by no means equals uniqueness and hence cannot demonstrate the essence of a thing . which aims at seeking for natural regularities. and what makes a thing “happen to be this thing” (Aristotle 1959.” lays a solid theoretical foundation in philosophy for the substantial development of Western science.

This is called “Sense-Certainty” by Hegel. in the case of a Confucian temple. the further it is to the “happening to be this thing” of a thing. As held by the philosophical principles of Chinese philosophical circles in the 1980’s.. contrarily. 28). the thing (substance) is devoid of subjectivity. In the second instance. That is to say. p. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind is a voluminous work describing the revealing process of essence which. Along with the proceeding development of its movement in consciousness.” the knower knows nothing. In the first instance. It will further appear as a universal. The revealing process of essence that I am describing here is rather cursory.e. For example. i. the .” the essence of the Confucian temple is at hand. when the universality of a Confucian temple is narrowed down to “a Confucian temple is the crystallization of Chinese traditional culture” or “a Confucian temple is the crystallization of Confucian traditional culture. Again. the essence of the thing has yet to appear so it can only be said that it is “being nothing” when people want to know what the essence is at the time.e. such as a colorful flower revealed in sight or the overall appearance of a Confucian temple.” the essence of the Confucian temple is beyond our reach. Hegel says. and so on. both subject to a certain universal regularity. As regards “what is this. salty. etc. universal regularity. offers us a great model. Whereas. This process goes from the easy to the difficult: At the initial phase. individuality at a higher level. the thing is white. This is generally called “essence” or “supersensible essence” (Zhang 2007a). What is finally revealed is the unity of the universality and the particularity (universal thing and particular thing) of things — i. The process whence the object or thing is recognized and revealed mentally is simultaneously the process wherein the self-cognition and self-revealing of the essence of this object or thing are done. such as a flower is a plant or a Confucian temple a temple. hence. the thing goes through the phases from “Sense-Certainty” to “Perception” and on to “Understanding”.” The case is rather this: the higher the degree of universality and the wider its range. the universality of things will be revealed. as salt. just being “this”. “Substance is essentially subject” (“Die Substanz ist wesentlich Subjekt”) (Hegel 1970a. the lower the degree of universality and the narrower its range. On the contrary. p. the essence of the thing appears from nothing to some specific qualities. Substance refers to the “object of ego” as a knower (Ibid. and cubical. the nearer it is to the “happening to be this thing” of the thing. in the traditional Chinese example of a plum blossom with noble character or a Confucian temple with the significance of Confucian culture. in this aspect.146 ZHANG Shiying that “happens to be this thing. 39). what is revealed is the simple individuality of the perception of a thing. when the universality of “a Confucian temple is a temple” is broadened to “a Confucian temple is a group of buildings. in the instance to follow: This flower is a plant and the salt is a mineral. It seems that there is a process wherein the essence of a thing is revealed.

It stands to reason that. “Understanding”. virtue. Hegel spends nine tenths of the space in his Phenomenology of Mind discussing the historical and cultural activities of the entire human society (including politics. “Spirit”. namely the abstract and universality. in perception — and the empty and internal thing in understanding (“das leere Innere” referring to abstract essence and regularity — by the writer) — . while the former takes the opposite attitude. “spirit”. and that the thing reaches and reveals its most deep-seated essence. “Perception”. 584). “perception”. it’s in the last phase of “Absolute Knowledge” that “substance” completely reveals itself as “subject”. law. it fails to demonstrate that a thing “happens to be this thing. Hegel however argues that the in-depth essence of a thing remains to be touched on in the recognition of this universality. After expatiating the “essence” in the sense of “universality and universal regularity” in the “Understanding” phase. Hegel incorporates the historical and cultural activities of the entire human society into the appearing process of the “essence” of a thing. philosophy. “Spirit”. compared with the “absolute essence” in the phase of “Absolute Knowledge”. “Religion”. none of the “essences” in various phases which belong to the “conscious phase” (“Sense-Certainty” or “meaning”. which belong to consciousness. the supersensible “essence” in the phase of “Understanding” is too abstract and superficial. arts. None the less. and what would be done next is merely to change the world in accordance with natural essence and regularity. appears so general that it fails to hit any particular individual. after the progression from “Self-consciousness” to “Reason”. In the view of Hegel. His phenomenology of mind developed from various phases of “Sense-Certainty”. etc. The key to the question is that the latter holds that object lies outside the subject. individuality as well as its opposite. religion. Ostensibly. For that matter. and “understanding”) can be said to be real essence: “The being in meaning. In Aristotle’s words. universality. It is his contention that the in-depth appearance of “essence” will not be reached unless some activities with the attitude that the object belongs to self (this is also a phenomenological attitude) are carried out: that is. and “absolute knowledge”. 495.The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences 147 essence of a thing as such is all over. 583. to the phases of “Self-consciousness” and even “Reason”. etc. the singular activity of “consciousness” (with “Understanding” as its top phase) holds that the object is outside the self.” For the same matter. according to which the recognized “essence” will by no means be the deep essence of a thing or an object. the historical and cultural activities of the whole human society that he mentions in various phases from “self-consciousness” to “reason”. whereas the former is concrete as well as profound. p. called “absolute essence” (“das absolute Wesen”) by Hegel (Hegel 1970a. the essence that the latter achieves. “Absolute essence” is the name for the highest and deepest essence. and “Religion”. “religion”. and “Absolute Knowledge”.). That is why he calls the “essence” in the phrase of “Absolute Knowledge”.

148 ZHANG Shiying are no more essences but rather are just moments of self-consciousness. the concrete and highest individuality. superficial. and indiscreet essence as embodied by a “group of buildings” or “temple”. Hence the essence and meaning of a thing or a phenomenon relies on a subject which takes uniqueness and individuality as its characteristics. rather than abstract universality. the transitional essence.” Needless to say. purely disappearing essences (rein verschwindende Wesen)” (Hegel 1970a. was the focus of our (myself included) criticism of Hegel’s philosophy.” Neither a thing nor an object can have so-called independent. they are. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind particularly stresses that “absolute essence” or “pure concept” must manifest itself in concrete history (including the history of human knowledge) as well as time. Only when we say “a Confucian temple is the crystallization of the traditional culture of Chinese Confucianism (we provisionally say so). viz. can we be said to reach or near the “absolute essence” of a Confucian temple. concretely as well as profoundly. Carefully scrutinized. p. however. and objective meaning without a subject. the “happening to be this thing” rather than the abstract. we can still argue that Hegel’s “absolute essence” is the unity of particularity and universality. the “absolute essence” of a thing cannot but equal “happening to be this thing” instead of the abstract universality in the phase of “Understanding”. exterior. the “essences” in such phases as “meaning”. and “understanding” are not authentic ones (“no more essences”) but just “disappearing moments” in the process wherein “essence” itself appears. Also because of this. “perception”. the essence that a Confucian temple conceives points out. In addition. If we slice off this part (it is a faulty expression in this great work). The key reason that Hegel’s “absolute essence” can hit upon individuality and demonstrate the “happening to be this thing” of a thing lies in its phenomenological thought: “Substance is essentially subject. In the example previously used. This assertion indicates that after thousands of years of manifestation and the depositing of Chinese traditional history and culture. simultaneously. in the past. there is one aspect that transcends time in Hegelian “absolute essence” which. 138). Perhaps a Chinese Phenomenology of Mind is needed to reach the “absolute essence” manifested by the statement “a Confucian temple is the crystallization of the traditional culture of Chinese Confucianism. . the thought of this passage by Hegel will proceed as follows: neither the saying that “a Confucian temple is a group of buildings” nor the statement that “a Confucian temple is a temple” can be said to have demonstrated the “essence” of a Confucian temple in that a “group of buildings” and “temple” are no more than “disappearing moments” in the self-appearing process of the “absolute essence” of a Confucian temple. most of this book is devoted to the depiction of this aspect. … In contrast to consciousness itself. That is to say.

In the first direction. Obviously. Modern science pursues digitization and quantification. Is it because the universality of “plant” exists independently without correlating with subject or consciousness? In effect. or consciousness of the person or ‘subject’. even the most abstract “number”. to demonstrate the essence of some individual flower. the generality of universality widens. All the universalities result from the abstract activities of subject and consciousness. is also “subjective as well as objective”.” Neither Hegel nor Husserl ever denied the independent existence of things outside man. “plant”. To him. which led the questioners to fail to get the true essence of Hegel’s statement “substance is essentially subject. let alone to its essence or to telling what its “essence” is. this is due to its taking abstract identity as the standard for objectivity. reducing everything to mathematical formulas. When we make use of universalities such as “flower” or “plant”. This identity hence becomes the standard for objectivity: that is. etc. both the Hegelian proposition that “substance is essentially subject” and Husserl’s method of parenthesizing exterior things tend to point out that any exterior thing unrelated to subject and consciousness is of no significance. are meaningful. judging. This shows that the objectivity of natural science by no means originates from some so-called thing-in-itself exterior to subject and consciousness but rather results from the abstract action of consciousness. none of the so-called universalities of “flower”. we conclude that this essence is objective. and to its contention that only by doing so can it reach the most objective and most scientific level. thought. the biggest generality or the most abstract identity has the greatest objectivity. without subject and consciousness. This is also the meaning of objectivity in terms of natural science. The action of consciousness can be roughly divided into two directions: from concrete to abstract and from abstract to concrete. the “absolute essence” that Phenomenology of Mind reaches via various phases of the historical cultural activities of human society is subjective. the view with respect to “objectivity as pertaining to things which exist independently of the experience. . such questions result from an ignorance of the basic views of phenomenology. but nevertheless. Meanwhile. and hence incapable of being the essence of natural things. “organism”. and hence lacks objectivity: Only the regularity or essence in the Hegelian phase of “Understanding” is objective. which would not be without the participation of subject and consciousness (Zhang 2007b). The “primary quality” of Locke. so much so that it sublimates into the concept of identity such as “number”. “organism”.The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences 149 2 Some would perhaps suggest that the “absolute essence” or “happening to be this thing” is no more than an artificial product inseparable from human beings. Dilthey holds the same standpoint.

On the other hand. the more objective it becomes. the objectivity of the natural sciences is the identity that has reached an abstract level. “outer experience”. 415). namely that moving from abstract to concrete. of historical human reason” (Ibid. which sets up a sharp contrast with the universal essence achieved in the opposite direction. 50). is ‘a sort of nonsense’. there is no transcendent thing contrary to the consciousness embedded in it” (Dilthey 1927b.150 ZHANG Shiying perceiving. . and hence the more abstract and universal a thing is. along with the progressing of the movement wherein consciousness reduces the scope of universality. essence refers to individuality. 32. 332). until the recognition that “a Confucian temple is the crystallization of the traditional culture of Chinese Confucianism. “In Dilthey’s view. and hence that there is no objectivity in terms of the humane sciences? In my view. the view of attributing the meaning of objectivity to ‘thing in itself’ (Sein an sich). Here. we can increasingly approach the essence of “happening to be this thing” of a Confucian temple. It’s not because such kind of objectivity is ‘silly’. the objectivity of neither the natural sciences nor the humane sciences lies in exterior things independent of subject and consciousness. p. 82). from abstract to concrete.). is also “a mode of experience. “the exterior world is a relation of pressure embedded in life. “Dilthey’s objectivity does not originate from. p. or otherwise ‘minding’ things. and as such is internally related to intending consciousness” (Ibid. Also. the investigation with regard to the humane sciences should not cease at the phase of abstract identity. Therefore. that is. that of impulse and resistance. the general regularity and objectivity achieved by natural science do not lie in some independent exterior reality but result from the abstract activity of human consciousness (Ermarth 1987. p. p. p. He says. For instance. It demands that the process be reversed after conscious activities reach the level of abstract identity. nor cultivate in. In a word. Sein an sich…There is no absolute standpoint wholly ‘other’ from what is to be known” (Ibid.. the degree of universality becomes lower.” In this way. the natural sciences are an activity and product. Can we however conclude hereby that this essence is subjective. an expression.” we can further recognize that a “Confucian temple is a temple. p. Makkreel 2003. They share this point but differ from each other in the meanings of their respective objectivities.”…and so on and so forth. so much so that concrete individuality is increasingly approached. This view of Dilthey is worthy of acknowledgment. The actuality of the exterior world only exists in the life-relation whose actuality just means that the relations of psychological construction contrast to the scope of spiritual science. Moreover. from “a Confucian temple is a group of buildings..” and that the “Temple of Confucius is the one located in Qufu. 83). to wit. As mentioned before. Dilthey argues that the object of natural science. but because such objectivity could not have vital or cognitive meaning” (Ermarth 1987. In the other direction of conscious activities.

worldview. 82–83). 88).. Every individual person. situations. p. leaving aside the significances of philosophy. together with those of scientific cognition which aim to achieve abstract identity. The objectivity of the humane sciences is relative because it includes interpretation (Ibid. is a concrete unity as such. For example.. etc. p. “value”. we can also reverse the procedure to the perspective of the humane sciences. the objective explanation of an important historical event includes interpretations with respect to such relational networks as interest. aiming at their respective significances. values. aesthetics. and morality. in Dilthey’s view. etc. and world-views” (Ibid. morality. A stock example of this reduction is the Confucian temple mentioned previously.. here refer to cultural factors like activities of interest. authentic. the more objective. “worldview”. and concrete the “coherence”. step by step. into “plant”. The “interest”. In the humane sciences. and even every individual thing in human life. “Objectivity in the ved-world and the human sciences consists in tracing relations. On the contrary. etc. and interest so as to achieve abstract identity (that is. pp. The objectivity of science lies in abstracting this concrete individual with rich significance. Locke’s “primary quality” or number). construct another unity. from the perspective of the natural sciences. Objectivity here means authenticity and concreteness. ethics. so to speak. 71). objectivity refers to something other than abstract identity. As interpreted by Michael Ermarth.The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences 151 reducing the universal things to individual ones step by step. roles. transcending (not abandoning) the significance of abstract identity. these significances of a thing. whereas individuality is emphasized when it comes to the investigation as for man. p. viz. What is needed here is the “coherence” of various significances and relations mentioned by Dilthey: The higher the coherence between these significances and relations. aesthetics. 82). Take a concrete flower for example: We can abstract it. In the life-world. … even into some abstract identity that can be expressed in mathematical formulas. Nevertheless. Human life is the unity of these activities and the cognitive activities of the natural sciences mentioned above. The view that tries to keep a balance between the natural sciences and humane sciences on universal regularities has been out of date due to its failing to respect the individuality and dignity of man. Relations are demonstrated by this kind of objectivity which “begins with a ‘point of interest’ and explicates a web or constellation of meanings. These relations are. and hence further reducing the above-mentioned significances to their organic unity. It has been the main thinking trend of modern Western philosophy from Dilthey on that universality is stressed in the study of nature. value. followed interpretively and reflectively” (Ermarth 1987. within a set of horizons and coherences. Dilthey once differentiated the significances of the two objectivities but failed to present detailed elaboration (Dilthey 1927b. “organism”. reduce the abstract . the objectivity of the humane sciences rests with the shift from the abstract to concrete. philosophy.

“flower”. etc.” “… a two-foot animal. which is the real.” … In this progression. a nation would lose its authenticity and concreteness. natural things completely beyond the reach of human beings are becoming fewer and fewer. and human life is the unity of nature and human culture.. “flower”. Anything in the life-world of mankind conceives human elements. some individual person can also be grasped from the two aspects of the natural sciences as well as the humane sciences: We can abstract him by saying “this man is a rational animal. etc. For another example. to “this man is a person with Chinese traditional cultural character. On the other hand. Without the organic whole and individuality.). and pay attention to the organic whole “integrated as one” by a good many individuals of the nation as well. man takes transcending natural things as his . “plant”.g. 3 There is no insurmountable gap between natural things and human things. to an organic unity with various particular significances [“organism”. we can treat and grasp them either from the perspective of the natural sciences or from the perspective of the humane sciences. its fragrance still retains” (Yongmei 咏梅 (Ode to Plum Blossom) by Lu You).g. from the perspective of the humane sciences. and its objectivity. “plum blossom (e. of Chinese traditional culture. in factual history. “plant”. The humane sciences should stress the individuality of people.” “…an animal. as a human being.” “…a philosopher with Chinese traditional cultural character. E. As for human beings and things. concrete character as well as objectivity of plum blossom in the life-world of Chinese people. respecting their respective dignities. We can also reduce this. aesthetics. A human is a natural being as well as a human being.” “…a philosopher with Chinese traditional cultural character who is engaged in the study of Lao-Zhuang 老庄 (Laozi and Zhuangzi) philosophy. The essence of plum blossom grasped in this way therefore conceives not only scientific cognitive significance such as “organism”. step by step. Secondly. In the same vein. Firstly.. the objectivity of a national culture can also be grasped from the standpoint of the organic whole and individuality. and hence his objectivity. the plum blossom has once been described as something that “when it withers and turns into earth. A nation is composed of a variety of individual people. so as to display the concrete characters of the plum blossom in the life-world of Chinese people. the so-called “thing-in-itself” alienated from the human world is of no significance.152 ZHANG Shiying identity of mathematical formulas.” and so on.” plum blossom with implications of Chinese traditional culture-…]. we are increasingly approaching the most authentic and most concrete personality of the person. but also the meanings of virtue. philosophy.

art. According to Dilthey. Human beings cannot but subject to the lively correlation of socio-historical actuality” (Makkreel 2003. both of them can be fit into the category of cultural activity in the global sense. from Dilthey’s differentiation of the two attitudes of the natural sciences and the humane sciences. In this way. how simple the view appears to be when it totally characterizes the humane sciences as seeking for universal regularities. That is to say. It can be seen. 55–56). religion etc. This makes us think of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind in which the “absolute spirit” — “absolute subject” is one carrying a long developing process of history and culture. As Dilthey asserts. whereas the latter refers to family. pp. 56–57. 15–17). human life is by no means totally determined by nature in that natural science can only interpret cause-and-effect relations with regard to natural aspects of man. pp.The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences 153 orientation. the humane sciences focus on pursuing the value and significance of human life of individuality. he is a “crossing point” (Kreuzungspunkt) of interactions between various social relations (Ibid. p. nation. Dilthey thus attaches great importance to the role played by individuals in promoting the development of history (Dilthey 1927a. science. However. and that the former refers to cultural activities such as language. nevertheless. This differentiation of attitudes toward the humane sciences and their natural counterparts can be eventually summed to that between the individualityorientation and the universality-orientation. None the less. As long as we criticize the “absolute” of Hegel and his artificial system (this is also what dissatisfies Dilthey). He argues that while the individual is the carrier (Träger) of history. a human being as a part of nature may and should demonstrate something via natural science. 43). p. human purposefulness and the meaning of value. the dependence of the humane sciences on the natural sciences is relative. namely every individual is the carrier of . 37. p. pp. “Human action is characterized by some purposefulness beyond the interpretation from natural science” (Makkreel 2003.. whereas the spiritual aspects. Taking the view the human being as the “crossing point” of various historical social relations as a starting point. In our opinion. Makkreel 2003. the humane sciences are in a measure independent of the natural sciences. Dilthey emphasizes particularly that human individuality is composed of a “culture system” (Kultursysteme) and “exterior social organization” (die aüssere Organization der Gesellschaft) (Dilthey 1927a.. p. go beyond the reach of cause-and-effect relations in the natural aspect of the human. 53). Or. every individual is a “carrier” as well as “cultivator” of cultural value (Ibid. Dilthey calls this individuality “relative independence” (Dilthey 1927a. p. 87. viz. what is conceived in Phenomenology of Mind will surface. Dilthey is by no means an individual libertarian who runs counter to Hegelian historical philosophy. While the natural sciences go after universal regularities. 87). “spiritual science” depends on “natural science” to a certain extent. 54). etc. 60).

a process where emphasis shifts from commonality to idiosyncrasy. but the nature thereof is by no means the same as understood by the natural sciences. a human being cannot be alienated from nature. p. While Dilthey merely established a status for humane sciences. What is more. the close relationship between the humane and natural sciences. viz.e. the view that the humane sciences need heterogeneous and alien support. 36). at the same time that Dilthey emphasizes the independence of the humane sciences from the natural sciences. p. 41). the humane sciences will undoubtedly show interest in the natural sciences. Different people reflect this process from different perspectives of being a “crossing point” and in different ways. rather than denying. Husserl’s theory of “transcendental reduction” seems . — This is however what the humane sciences concern rather than what te natural sciences do (Ibid. and to set up an ideal society “harmonious yet not the same” on the basis of the philosophical ontology of being “different but communicating” rather than pressing “difference” with “identity”. he argues that the independence is relative. a human being can be alienated from nature. is wrong. which are the manifestation of respective individualities. According to Husserl’s theory of intentionality. As he says. i. The process with natural things and cultural things as its two extremes is one wherein essence shifts from universality to individuality. the study of “nature” by the humane sciences lies in purely taking “nature” as the object of intention. As has been mentioned before. a heterogeneous and alien thing. and to the fact that nature is where spirit bases itself. Husserl all the more inclines to connect the natural sciences to the humane. 17). In this way. on the part of Husserl and contrary to what Dilthey holds. and the human to thing. The shift from the attitude of the natural sciences to that of the humane sciences covers a process whence universalization (generalization) changes into individualization. Will emphasizing the humane sciences valuing particularity and its status lead to the effacement of the important significance of the natural sciences? This is not so. It is my contention that what should be emphasized in the field of human society is to respect and develop individual particularity and idiosyncrasy. whereas Husserl holds the opposite view. “Spiritual actuality is the upper limit of its natural counterpart while natural actuality is necessarily the basic prerequisite of spiritual life” (Dilthey 1927a. On all accounts. Dilthey agrees that humane sciences should get support from natural sciences (Ermarth 1987.154 ZHANG Shiying the subject during the long-developing course of culture and history. According to Husserl. 35).. p. Dilthey attaches great importance to. in Dilthey’s view. p.. or pressing individuality or particularity by means of universality or unity. Differing from Dilthey. Focusing entirely on seeking common ground in the field of human society will result in linking the humane sciences to the natural sciences. it is not that the humane sciences have relative independence but that the natural sciences have nothing but relative independence (Ibid. and that the natural sciences and nature have absolute independence.

Vol.The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences 155 to have dismantled the hedge between the humane and natural sciences. The “purity” of his philosophy has in effect alienated history and culture hence human life. Vol. Teubner Ermarth. p. Husserl’s intention of overcoming “alienation” is worthy of approval. Dilthey’s philosophy gets closer to human life. Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan Dilthey (1927a). Michael (1987). offering the former an absolute priority (Ibid.. “Jingjie yu wenhua” 境界与文化 (“Mental realm and culture”). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Verlag Hegel (1970b). Jianghai xuekan 江海学刊 (Jianghai Academic Journal). Werke 19. Dilthey’s assertion that “spiritual science” is “relatively independent of” “natural science” is more practical and more accurate. Metaphysics (in Chinese). “Xianxiangxue kouhao ‘mianxiang shiqing benshen’ de yuantou — Heige’er de jingshen xianxiangxue” 现象学口号“面向事情本身”的源头——黑格尔的《精神 现象学》 (“The origin of phenomenological slogan‚ ‘back to things themselves’ — Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind”). G. Band. Washington. Rudolph (2003). Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan Schimidt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Verlag Makkreel. Husserl belittled history. p. Werke 3. 43). All these run counter to his intention of stressing the priority of the humane sciences and overcoming the alienation of the natural sciences from human life. In: Dilthey and Phenomenology. Diltheys Gesammelte Schriften VII. Verlag von B. Has Husserl’s “theory of transcendental reduction”. but in any event. Xueshu yuekan 学术月刊 (Academic Monthly). Diltheys Gesammelte Schriften I. D C Hegel (1970a). Teubner Dilthcy (1927b). Biography of Dilthey (in Chinese). Vol. Stuttgart Zhang Shiying (2007a). Comparatively. 2 Zhang Shiying (2007b). In addition. A voice advocating the attribution of the natural sciences to the humanities can be heard today in the intention to overcome the “alienation” of present cultural life. nevertheless gone too far? It is my contention that the intention of isolating human life from nature is impractical. G. prescribing essence as universality but ignoring the importance of individuality. 42). 40. A History of Western Philosophy (in Chinese). Philosoplosches Woerterbuch. I. Heinrich (1978).. Verlag von B. “Objectivity and Relativity in Dilthey’s Theory of Understanding”. The imbroglio of thought between Dilthey and Husserl was originally hard to clarify. References Aristotle (1959). but also to halt the ever-increasing alienation of natural science from life” (Ibid. Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan Russell (1963). “Husserl’s aim is not only to demonstrate the independence of the human from the natural sciences. What should be particularly pointed out here is that besides presenting the thought of “intersubjectivity” and the “life-world” in his old age. 3 .

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