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Geisteswissenschaft is a traditional division of faculty in German universities that included subjects such as Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, Philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

, social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

, sometimes even Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

, and Jurisprudence
Jurisprudence is the theory and philosophy of law. Scholars of jurisprudence, or legal theorists , hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of law, of legal reasoning, legal systems and of legal institutions...

. Most of its subject matter would come under the much larger Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 faculty in the typical English-speaking university
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

, but it does not contain any arts.

The concept of Geist
Geist is a German word. Depending on context it can be translated as the English words mind, spirit, or ghost, covering the semantic field of these three English nouns...

 dates back to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German idealism
German idealism
German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s, and was closely linked both with romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment...

, in particular to Hegel's
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher, one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality as a whole revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.Hegel developed a comprehensive...

 concept of a "Volksgeist", the alleged common "spirit", or rather, mind, of a people. To understand the term Geisteswissenschaften, one should bear in mind that the continental faculty of philosophy inherited the medieval faculty of arts. Besides philosophy itself it encompassed the natural sciences with mathematics as well as the philological and historical disciplines and later on psychology and the social sciences. The term Geisteswissenschaften first was used as translation of John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

’s term “moral sciences”. The historian, philosopher and sociologist Wilhelm Dilthey
Wilhelm Dilthey
Wilhelm Dilthey was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist and hermeneutic philosopher, who held Hegel's Chair in Philosophy at the University of Berlin. As a polymathic philosopher, working in a modern research university, Dilthey's research interests revolved around questions of...

 popularised the term, arguing that psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and the emerging field of sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 – like the philological
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

 and historical disciplines – should be considered as Geisteswissenschaften rather than as Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences), and that their methodology
Methodology is generally a guideline for solving a problem, with specificcomponents such as phases, tasks, methods, techniques and tools . It can be defined also as follows:...

 should reflect this classification. His arguments were very influential in the theories of the prominent German sociologist Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

, though Weber preferred the term "Kulturwissenschaft", which has been promoted by his neokantian
Neo-Kantianism refers broadly to a revived type of philosophy along the lines of that laid down by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, or more specifically by Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation , as well as by other post-Kantian...

 colleagues (Wilhelm Windelband
Wilhelm Windelband
Wilhelm Windelband was a German philosopher of the Baden School.Windelband is now mainly remembered for the terms nomothetic and idiographic, which he introduced. These have currency in psychology and other areas, though not necessarily in line with his original meanings...

 and Heinrich Rickert
Heinrich Rickert
Heinrich John Rickert was a German philosopher, one of the leading Neo-Kantians.-Life:He was born in Danzig, Prussia and died in Heidelberg, Germany.-Thought:...


Since the times of Dilthey it became common to speak of the 'Naturwissenschaften' on the one hand and the 'Geisteswissenschaften' on the other – not particularly considering the status of mathematics and of philosophy itself. After the separation of the natural sciences and mathematics into a particular faculty (in some universities not until the 1950s), the Geisteswissenschaften were left alone in the philosophical faculty and even philosophy often was subsumed under the term Geisteswissenschaften. Meanwhile many of the German universities have split up these faculties in smaller departments, so that the old common interests and the old borders are less visible.

The term is presently used irregularly. In administrative contexts it is used broadly to discuss how to organise the academic institutions and describe the culture of academic discussions, so that the faculties of Theology and Law are added to the Geisteswissenschaften. In some contexts of science policy the Geisteswissenschaften are described as non-empirical sciences, drawing them near philosophy and excluding the social sciences from their area. In the context of methodology on the contrary it has been emphasised, that – of course not philosophy, but - Geisteswissenschaften as history and the philological disciplines, relating on empirical data (documents, books and utterances), along with psychology and the social sciences have a common empirical character, which is essentially based on comprehension (Verstehen) or understanding of expressions of meaning.

Other authors, like Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, and esotericist. He gained initial recognition as a literary critic and cultural philosopher...

, used the term Geisteswissenschaft in a historically quite distinct sense to refer to a proposed "Science of Spirit".

Example Usage

From Kulturgeschichte Frankreichs, Suchanek-Fröhlich, S. p 633:

Man hat Taine vorgeworfen, dass er, dessen Hauptziel die Einführung naturwissenschaftlicher Methoden in die Geisteswissenschaften war, selbst nicht induktiv, sondern deduktiv vorging.


Some reproach Taine
Hippolyte Taine
Hippolyte Adolphe Taine was a French critic and historian. He was the chief theoretical influence of French naturalism, a major proponent of sociological positivism, and one of the first practitioners of historicist criticism. Literary historicism as a critical movement has been said to originate...

in that he himself, whose goal was the introduction of the methods of natural science into the Geisteswissenschaften, proceeded from methods which were not inductive but rather deductive.