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Much of the space for humanist social thought was cleared by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), through his attack on the fundamental assumptions of positivism as well as his formulation of a critical method, hermeneutics, by which the works of free human consciousness could be understood.

The first tenet of positivism is that the world is made up of “out there” objectively knowable “facts.” Dilthey undercut this notion by asserting that the subject matter of the human studies was not mere facts of nature, but rather objectified expressions of the human mind. The second central assumption of positivism is that these facts are explainable or determined by general causal laws. In contrast, Dilthey asserted that while we can explain the natural world, human action must be understood through ...

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