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Rickert On Historical Sciences: A Critical Appraisal


In this talk I discuss a significant objection that has been raised against the view of historical sciences held by Heinrich Rickert: the accusation of “fruitless formalism”. This accusation has been expressed by a large number of thinkers, including for instance Wilhelm Wundt, Edmund Husserl, Max Frischeisen-Köhler and Eduard Spranger. As one knows, Rickert answered the objection in the last editions of his major book, "The Limits of the Concept Formation in Natural Sciences". His strategy was, first, to distance himself from a certain interpretation I will call the “formal view”, and, second, to argue for the fruitfulness of his own, more sophisticated view. However, as suggested by other representatives of the Bade School (like Richard Kroner), it is doubtful that the Rickert view perfectly succeeded in resorbing the shortcomings of the formal view. - In the first, introductive section I will put the formalism-problem in connection with a definite sub-set of issues within the broader framework of the philosophy of history (1). In the second and third sections I will address two questions related, respectively, to the nature of historical form (2) and to the nature of historical material (3). I will then contrast the formal view with the Rickert view on the one hand and with Kroner’s contentual view on the other hand. In the last, conclusive section I will try to draw some general implications of the formalism-controversy (4).

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