Ideography and traits
A proposal still influential today was made in 1894 by the Strasbourg professor of philosophy Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915). He spoke for the first time about demarcating the “kinetic” and “ideographic” sciences. “nomothet” is a legislator in ancient Greek. The word “idiographic” means something like “to describe what is one’s own, what is one’s own.” According to Windelband, in sciences that deal with external objects and not only with themselves, there are two very different approaches: Kinetic sciences try to establish general and timeless laws. On the other hand, ideographic sciences want to describe the individual and unique things in one place and at one time as comprehensively as possible. Physics, for example, is psychology, deriving quantitative laws from a series of experiments, while literary studies and art history are psychology, in which entire shelves can be filled with literature for one sculpture or one novel.
The advantage of this distinction is that it recognizes that there are different and equal sources of scientific truth, going against popular science chauvinism which only accepts empirical science as such. The downside is that the distinction cuts traditional majors down the middle. Linguistics, for example, does both terminology, when it discovers and describes as accurately as possible how people speak at a particular time and place, and traits, when it identifies the general laws of language development or language acquisition. Windelband himself noted in 1894 that the two terms do not refer to different things, but rather methods of access: in his lecture he explained that biology progresses subjectively when it pursues evolutionary history, but nominally when it systematically describes life on earth. Altogether, it appears to be a matter of reference point and research objectives, i.e. the first category to which to assign a scholarly activity.
By the way, like mathematics, Windelband excludes philosophy from the very beginning, because it is not in their competence to describe external things. In his words, they are “not immediately directed toward knowing something given in experience”. Modern Hadith speaks of formal or structural sciences.
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