Positivism, Positive School
Verstehen is associated with the
writing of Max Weber (1864-1920). Verstehen is now seen as a
concept and a method central to a rejection of positivistic social science (although Weber
appeared to think that the two could be united).
Verstehen (ferchaen) is the use of
empathy in the sociological or historical understanding of human action and behaviour.
Verstehen refers to understanding
the meaning of action from the actor's point of view. Verstehen is entering into the shoes
of the other, and adopting this stance requires treating the actor as a subject, rather
than an object of your observations.
To do research on actors without
taking into account the meanings they attribute to their actions or environment is to
treat them like objects.
Verstehen also implies that unlike
objects in the natural world human actors are not simply the product of the pulls and
pushes of external forces. Individuals are seen to create the world by organizing their
own understanding of it and giving it meaning.
Verstehen literally means
understanding or comprehension.
Verstehende is comprehend employing Verstehen.
Max Weber, Interpretive
Sociology, and the Sense of Historical Science: a Positivistic Conception of
Thomas Burger - The Sociological Quarterly - Volume 18 - March 1977
Weber's advocacy of understanding and an interpretive
sociology is shown to be a consequence of the anthropological premises of his theory
of concept formation in history. These premises, which are implied in his Rickertian
conception of value-relevance as the foundation of historical knowledge, are that men are
interested in understandable historical developments because of their practical
involvement in society, they rely on historical knowledge in their efforts to make sense
out of the present. While acknowledging this indispensable function of history Weber
insists, however, that historical knowledge can strictly justify neither the meaning given
to the present nor man's conduct in practical affairs. This is why, in opposition to the
mainstream of the Verstehen tradition, he argues against valuing historical and social
Dilthey, Empathy and Verstehen
A Contemporary Reappraisal
Austin Harrington, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS, UK
Wilhelm Dilthey's late nineteenth-century doctrine of `re-experiencing' the thoughts and
feelings of the actors whose lives the social scientist seeks to understand has been
criticized by several commentators as entailing a `na´ve empathy view of understanding'
in which social scientists are said to transport themselves into other cultural contexts
in a wholly uncritical, unreflective manner. This article challenges such criticisms by
arguing that Dilthey's writings on hermeneutics amount to a highly sophisticated defence
of the role of psychological feeling in understanding that should still be of interest to
contemporary social theorists.
The Operation Called VERSTEHEN -
Tomasi, Timothy J.
Descriptors: Cognitive Processes; Educational Objectives; Higher Education; Intellectual
Development; Learning Processes; Teaching Methods - Journal: Improving College and
University Teaching - Journal Citation: 21, 2, 157-158, Spr 73
Abstract: Verstehen, the understanding of human behavior, can be of value to teacher and
student alike, bringing both to an increased level of sophistication in the learning