Universität Wien
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180132 LPS Reading seminar: The Philosophy of the Cultural Sciences around 1900 (2021W)

5.00 ECTS (3.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 45 participants
Language: German


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

The course will be co-taught by Henriikka Hannula.

This seminar is blocked and requires the attendance of minimally 80%.

  • Friday 15.10. 15:00 - 16:30 Digital
  • Friday 03.12. 15:00 - 16:30 Digital
  • Saturday 11.12. 08:00 - 15:15 Digital
  • Saturday 18.12. 08:00 - 15:15 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

Students learn to historically contextualize and critically reflect on philosophical texts.

In 1922, Ernst Troeltsch calls out the "crisis of historicism." Troeltsch diagnosed historicism as the predominant worldview of Weimar Germany and worried about its effects on the German culture. For him, historicism amounted to a rejection of an absolute foundation of epistemology, science, and ethics. Although the criticism of Troeltsch's essay was directed primarily against Friedrich Nietzsche and Oswald Spengler, this essay tackles an issue many philosophers before the First Great War were deeply concerned with: How to take history seriously without falling into a relativist position. 

The Marburg school counteracted this problem with the argument that by analyzing the historical practices of culture, philosophy aims to identify the social sciences' rational foundation. Influenced by Kant, Hermann Cohen worked out the 'transcendental method' that starts with the "historical fact of science." For Cohen, all disciplines of the social sciences rely on a moral foundation. Cohen's student, Ernst Cassirer, however, broadened the understanding of philosophy. Cassirer moved away from a purely rational account of the social sciences. Besides the natural sciences, he focused also on myths, religion, and linguistics. Both—Cohen and Cassirer—held the view that philosophy starts in history while combating the problem of relativism with a Kantian notion of transcendental subjectivity.

The hermeneutic answer to the problem of relativism was different. Instead of looking for universally valid concepts and standards of knowledge, it embraced the fundamental historicity of human existence. Wilhelm Dilthey's hermeneutics sought to build a firm foundation for the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) on this basis. In his view, the method of the human sciences was based on understanding and interpretation. In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger appropriated the concept of historicity from Dilthey and Paul Yorck von Wartenburg. However, he rejected the epistemological and scientistic focus of Dilthey's hermeneutics and conceives the task of philosophy as primarily ontological.

In this seminar, we read selected works on the philosophy of the social and cultural sciences by Ernst Troeltsch, Hermann Cohen, Ernst Cassirer, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Martin Heidegger. Students learn to recognize a philosophical thesis and a philosophical argument, discuss the main aspects in oral exchange and written form, and formulate one or several arguments in their final paper.

The texts will be read in their original language (German and English). The discussions will predominantly be held in German. Oral and written contributions may be in German or English. We welcome students who do not have German as their first language and encourage those who would like to write their final paper in English.

Assessment and permitted materials

The following aspects determine the final grade: Attendance, work assignments, reading questions, an outline of the final paper, and the final paper.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

One can gain 100 points max. consisting of the following parts:

(0) Attendance
(2.5/5) Collaboration
(7.5/15) Work assignments
(12.5/25) Reading questions
(7.5/15) Outline of the final paper
(20/40) Final paper

In brackets, you find the minimum and maximum points you can receive. For example: (10/20) signifies that for a positive grade, you need a minimum of 10 points, and you can gain a maximum of 20 points on this assignment. All parts need to be positive in order to receive a positive grade at the end of the course. Thus, by a total of 50 points, the grade is only positive if all the subparts are positive.

Examination topics

The LPS is an "exam-immanent" course. This means that there will not be a final exam.

Reading list

See German literature list. We will provide digital copies of relevent sections of the primary literature. You will find recommendations for secondary literature on the course syllabus.

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Fr 12.05.2023 00:18