On This Day … 19 November

People (Births)

  • 1833 – Wilhelm Dilthey, German psychologist, sociologist, and historian (d. 1911).
  • 1937 – Penelope Leach, English psychologist and author.

Wilhelm Dilthey

Wilhelm Dilthey (19 November 1833 to 01 October 1911) was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist, and hermeneutic philosopher, who held G.W.F. 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 scientific methodology, historical evidence and history’s status as a science. He could be considered an empiricist, in contrast to the idealism prevalent in Germany at the time, but his account of what constitutes the empirical and experiential differs from British empiricism and positivism in its central epistemological and ontological assumptions, which are drawn from German literary and philosophical traditions.


Dilthey was interested in psychology. In his work Ideas Concerning a Descriptive and Analytic Psychology (Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie, 1894), he introduced a distinction between explanatory psychology (erklärende Psychologie; also explanative psychology) and descriptive psychology (beschreibende Psychologie; also analytic psychology, zergliedernde Psychologie): in his terminology, explanatory psychology is the study of psychological phenomena from a third-person point of view, which involves their subordination to a system of causality, while descriptive psychology is a discipline that attempts to explicate how different mental processes converge in the “structural nexus of consciousness.”

The distinction is based on the more general distinction between explanatory/explanative sciences (erklärende Wissenschaften), on the one hand, and interpretive sciences (beschreibende Wissenschaften or verstehende Wissenschaften, that is, the sciences which are based on the Verstehen method), on the other.

In his later work (Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften, 1910), he used the alternative term structural psychology (Strukturpsychologie) for descriptive psychology.

Penelope Leach

Penelope Jane Leach (née Balchin; born 19 November 1937), is a British psychologist who researches and writes extensively on parenting issues from a child development perspective.

Leach is best known for her book Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, published in 1977, which has sold over two million copies to date and won the BMA award for “best medical book for general audiences” in 1998. Leach notes in the introduction to that book: “Whatever you are doing, however you are coping, if you listen to your child and to your own feelings, there will be something you can actually do to put things right or make the best of those that are wrong.”


Her first research positions included a year in the Home Office Research Unit studying juvenile crime and six years at the Medical Research Council Developmental Research Unit. Leach is a fellow of the British Psychological Society (1988), was Vice-President of the Health Visitors’ Association (1988-1999), and President of the National Childminding Association (1999-2006). She was a founding member of AIMH (The Association of Infant Mental Health) (1998-2002) and is now an adviser. She also worked for the Pre-school Parents’ Association and with organisations concerned with children’s rights, including the NSPCC (Trustee, 1996-1999) and its sister organisations in Ireland, the US, and Canada, and the Children’s Rights Development Unit (1996-2001). As a founder and parent educator of EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) (1988-2004), now CAU (Children are Unbeatable), she has written pamphlets and booklets campaigning against physical punishment and in favour of positive discipline. Since 2009 she has been a Director of the Mindful Policy group which seeks to link psychological research and political policy. Recently she has contributed to work on the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, writing the lead chapter to the book Too Much Too Soon?: Early Learning and the erosion of childhood, Hawthorne Press 2011. Between 1997 and 2005, Leach co-directed the largest ever English study of childcare.

Her current research, writing and teaching focuses on contemporary infant neuroscience which in some areas is producing evidence where formerly there were only ideas and opinions. In 2013 she published a chapter entitled “Infant Rearing in the Context of Contemporary Neuroscience” in the Handbook of Child Wellbeing, eds. Korbin and Asher, published by Springer. She is a senior research fellow of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues, Birkbeck, University of London, and of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust (1997-). She is a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Winchester (2013-).

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