Dilthey’s philosophy and methodology of hermeneutics: An approach and contribution to nursing science

Dara James, Pauline Komnenich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The purpose of this article was to examine the historical contribution of Wilhelm Dilthey's approach to the philosophy and methodology of hermeneutics in the demarcated context of nursing science. Dilthey's work made a fundamentally significant, yet ancillary, contribution to nursing science. Organically born from a need to deduce Biblical texts, hermeneutics later developed as a means to understand the truth of another's experience, in literal German language referred to as verstehen. A German-born empiricist and devout hermeneutic scholar, Dilthey extended the philosophy of hermeneutics to a methodological approach as a way to recapture expressed meaning of human experiences. His directive work paved a procedural pathway to probe the science of human nature while bound to the appropriate sociohistorical context. Hermeneutic methodology provides a phenomenological-like way to more keenly understand and interpret the whole person. This methodological approach steers a truth-seeking strategy fixed in meticulous and rigorous inquiry. Dilthey transparently recognized the humble fact that there is no true way to wholly grasp another's experience, an inherent limitation of our human abilities. The current paper posits that hermeneutical understanding verstehen can be paralleled to the concept of empathy in nursing. Understanding and empathy are foundational components to the field of nursing as a caring science. The complex yet invaluable philosophy and methodology of Wilhelm Dilthey's hermeneutics is notably relevant and applicable to nursing science as we strive to care for, treat, and heal patients as whole beings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12353
JournalNursing Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Dilthey
  • hermeneutics
  • methodology
  • nursing science
  • philosophy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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