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And it might be supra-national—for example, an economic history of Western Europe or comparative treatment of Eurasian history. The key point is that historians in this middle range are free to choose the scale of analysis that seems to permit the best level of conceptualization of history, given the evidence that is available and the social processes that appear to be at work. The topic of history has been treated frequently in modern European philosophy. A long, largely German, tradition of thought looks at history as a total and comprehensible process of events, structures, and processes, for which the philosophy of history can serve as an interpretive tool.

This approach, speculative and meta-historical, aims to discern large, embracing patterns and directions in the unfolding of human history, persistent notwithstanding the erratic back-and-forth of particular historical developments. Modern philosophers raising this set of questions about the large direction and meaning of history include Vico, Herder, and Hegel.

A somewhat different line of thought in the continental tradition that has been very relevant to the philosophy of history is the hermeneutic tradition of the human sciences. Human beings make history; but what is the fundamental nature of the human being? Can the study of history shed light on this question? When we study different historical epochs, do we learn something about unchanging human beings—or do we learn about fundamental differences of motivation, reasoning, desire, and collectivity? Is humanity a historical product?

Giambattista Vico's New Science offered an interpretation of history that turned on the idea of a universal human nature and a universal history see Berlin for commentary.

General Introduction to the Philosophy of History

Vico's interpretation of the history of civilization offers the view that there is an underlying uniformity in human nature across historical settings that permits explanation of historical actions and processes. The common features of human nature give rise to a fixed series of stages of development of civil society, law, commerce, and government: Two things are worth noting about this perspective on history: Johann Gottfried Herder offers a strikingly different view about human nature and human ideas and motivations.

Herder argues for the historical contextuality of human nature in his work, Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity He offers a historicized understanding of human nature, advocating the idea that human nature is itself a historical product and that human beings act differently in different periods of historical development —, Herder's views set the stage for the historicist philosophy of human nature later found in such nineteenth century figures as Hegel and Nietzsche. Philosophers have raised questions about the meaning and structure of the totality of human history.

Some philosophers have sought to discover a large organizing theme, meaning, or direction in human history. This may take the form of an effort to demonstrate how history enacts a divine order, or reveals a large pattern cyclical, teleological, progressive , or plays out an important theme for example, Hegel's conception of history as the unfolding of human freedom discussed below. The ambition in each case is to demonstrate that the apparent contingency and arbitrariness of historical events can be related to a more fundamental underlying purpose or order.

This approach to history may be described as hermeneutic; but it is focused on interpretation of large historical features rather than the interpretation of individual meanings and actions. In effect, it treats the sweep of history as a complicated, tangled text, in which the interpreter assigns meanings to some elements of the story in order to fit these elements into the larger themes and motifs of the story.

Ranke makes this point explicitly A recurring current in this approach to the philosophy of history falls in the area of theodicy or eschatology: Theologians and religious thinkers have attempted to find meaning in historical events as expressions of divine will. One reason for theological interest in this question is the problem of evil; thus Leibniz's Theodicy attempts to provide a logical interpretation of history that makes the tragedies of history compatible with a benevolent God's will In the twentieth century, theologians such as Maritain , Rust , and Dawson offered systematic efforts to provide Christian interpretations of history.

Enlightenment thinkers rejected the religious interpretation of history but brought in their own teleology, the idea of progress—the idea that humanity is moving in the direction of better and more perfect civilization, and that this progression can be witnessed through study of the history of civilization Condorcet ; Montesquieu Vico's philosophy of history seeks to identify a foundational series of stages of human civilization. Different civilizations go through the same stages, because human nature is constant across history Pompa Rousseau a; b and Kant —5; —6 brought some of these assumptions about rationality and progress into their political philosophies, and Adam Smith embodies some of this optimism about the progressive effects of rationality in his account of the unfolding of the modern European economic system This effort to derive a fixed series of stages as a tool of interpretation of the history of civilization is repeated throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it finds expression in Hegel's philosophy discussed below , as well as Marx's materialist theory of the development of economic modes of production Marx and Engels —49; Marx and Engels Spengler , Toynbee , Wittfogel , and Lattimore These authors offered a reading of world history in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations, races, or cultures.

Their writings were not primarily inspired by philosophical or theological theories, but they were also not works of primary historical scholarship. Spengler and Toynbee portrayed human history as a coherent process in which civilizations pass through specific stages of youth, maturity, and senescence. Wittfogel and Lattimore interpreted Asian civilizations in terms of large determining factors. Lattimore applies the key of geographic and ecological determinism to the development of Asian civilization Rowe A legitimate criticism of many efforts to offer an interpretation of the sweep of history is the view that it looks for meaning where none can exist.

Interpretation of individual actions and life histories is intelligible, because we can ground our attributions of meaning in a theory of the individual person as possessing and creating meanings. But there is no super-agent lying behind historical events—for example, the French Revolution—and so it is a category mistake to attempt to find the meaning of the features of the event e.

The theological approach purports to evade this criticism by attributing agency to God as the author of history, but the assumption that there is a divine author of history takes the making of history out of the hands of humanity. Efforts to discern large stages in history such as those of Vico, Spengler, or Toynbee are vulnerable to a different criticism based on their mono-causal interpretations of the full complexity of human history.

These authors single out one factor that is thought to drive history: But their hypotheses need to be evaluated on the basis of concrete historical evidence. And the evidence concerning the large features of historical change over the past three millennia offers little support for the idea of one fixed process of civilizational development.

Instead, human history, at virtually every scale, appears to embody a large degree of contingency and multiple pathways of development. For example, Michael Mann's sociology of early agrarian civilizations , De Vries and Goudsblom's efforts at global environmental history , and Jared Diamond's treatment of disease and warfare offer examples of scholars who attempt to explain some large features of human history on the basis of a few common human circumstances: The challenge for macro-history is to preserve the discipline of empirical evaluation for the large hypotheses that are put forward.

Hegel's philosophy of history is perhaps the most fully developed philosophical theory of history that attempts to discover meaning or direction in history a, b, Hegel regards history as an intelligible process moving towards a specific condition—the realization of human freedom. Hegel incorporates a deeper historicism into his philosophical theories than his predecessors or successors.

And he views it to be a central task for philosophy to comprehend its place in the unfolding of history. Hegel constructs world history into a narrative of stages of human freedom, from the public freedom of the polis and the citizenship of the Roman Republic, to the individual freedom of the Protestant Reformation, to the civic freedom of the modern state. He attempts to incorporate the civilizations of India and China into his understanding of world history, though he regards those civilizations as static and therefore pre-historical O'Brien For example, Napoleon's conquest of much of Europe is portrayed as a world-historical event doing history's work by establishing the terms of the rational bureaucratic state.

Hegel finds reason in history; but it is a latent reason, and one that can only be comprehended when the fullness of history's work is finished: It is worth observing that Hegel's philosophy of history is not the indefensible exercise of speculative philosophical reasoning that analytic philosophers sometimes paint it. His philosophical approach is not based solely on foundational apriori reasoning, and many of his interpretations of concrete historical developments are quite insightful.

His prescription is that the philosopher should seek to discover the rational within the real—not to impose the rational upon the real. His approach is neither purely philosophical nor purely empirical; instead, he undertakes to discover within the best historical knowledge of his time, an underlying rational principle that can be philosophically articulated Avineri Another important strand of continental philosophy of history proposes to apply hermeneutics to problems of historical interpretation.

This approach focuses on the meaning of the actions and intentions of historical individuals rather than historical wholes. This tradition derives from the tradition of scholarly Biblical interpretation. Hermeneutic scholars emphasized the linguistic and symbolic core of human interactions and maintained that the techniques that had been developed for the purpose of interpreting texts could also be employed to interpret symbolic human actions and products.

Wilhelm Dilthey maintained that the human sciences were inherently distinct from the natural sciences in that the former depend on the understanding of meaningful human actions, while the latter depend on causal explanation of non-intensional events , , Human life is structured and carried out through meaningful action and symbolic expressions.

Dilthey maintains that the intellectual tools of hermeneutics—the interpretation of meaningful texts—are suited to the interpretation of human action and history. The method of verstehen understanding makes a methodology of this approach; it invites the thinker to engage in an active construction of the meanings and intentions of the actors from their point of view Outhwaite This line of interpretation of human history found expression in the twentieth-century philosophical writings of Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Foucault.

This tradition approaches the philosophy of history from the perspective of meaning and language. It argues that historical knowledge depends upon interpretation of meaningful human actions and practices. Historians should probe historical events and actions in order to discover the interconnections of meaning and symbolic interaction that human actions have created Sherratt The hermeneutic tradition took an important new turn in the mid-twentieth century, as philosophers attempted to make sense of modern historical developments including war, ethnic and national hatred, and holocaust.

Narratives of progress were no longer compelling, following the terrible events of the first half of the twentieth century.

Philosophy of History

Paul Ricoeur draws out the parallels between personal memory, cultural memory, and history Dominick LaCapra brings the tools of interpretation theory and critical theory to bear on his treatment of the representation of the trauma of the Holocaust , This is a theme that has been taken up by contemporary historians, for example, by Michael Kammen in his treatment of public remembrance of the American Civil War Memory and the representation of the past play a key role in the formation of racial and national identities; numerous twentieth-century philosophers have noted the degree of subjectivity and construction that are inherent in the national memories represented in a group's telling of its history.

Although not himself falling within the continental lineage, R. Collingwood's philosophy of history falls within the general framework of hermeneutic philosophy of history Collingwood focuses on the question of how to specify the content of history. He argues that history is constituted by human actions. He presents the idea of re-enactment as a solution to the problem of knowledge of the past from the point of view of the present. The past is accessible to historians in the present, because it is open to them to re-enact important historical moments through imaginative reconstruction of the actors' states of mind and intentions.

He describes this activity of re-enactment in the context of the historical problem of understanding Plato's meanings as a philosopher or Caesar's intentions as a ruler:. The post-war German historian Reinhart Koselleck made important contributions to the philosophy of history that are largely independent from the other sources of Continental philosophy of history mentioned here. His major compendium, with Brunner and Conze, of the history of concepts of history in the German-speaking world is one of the major expressions of this work Brunner, Conze, and Koselleck Koselleck believes there are three key tasks for the metahistorian or philosopher: Koselleck represents these conceptual oppositions as representing conditions of possibility of any representation of history Bouton In order to represent history it is necessary to make use of a vocabulary that distinguishes the things we need to talk about; and historical concepts permit these identifications.

This in turn requires both conceptual and historical treatment: Further, Bouton argues that Koselleck also brings a critical perspective to the concepts that he discusses: To what extent do these particular concepts work well to characterize history? What this amounts to is the idea that history is the result of conceptualization of the past on the part of the people who tell it—professional historians, politicians, partisans, and ordinary citizens. It is therefore an important, even crucial, task to investigate the historical concepts that have been used to characterize the past.

This approach might seem to fall within the larger field of intellectual history; but Koselleck and other exponents believe that the historical concepts in use actually play a role as well in the concrete historical developments that occur within a period. Koselleck is concerned to uncover the logic and semantics of the concepts that have been used to describe historical events and processes; and he is interested in the historical evolution of some of those concepts over time.

IV. The Course of World History

In this latter interest his definition of the question parallels that of the so-called Cambridge School of Quentin Skinner, John Dunn, and J. Whatmore and Young provide extensive and useful accounts of each of the positions mentioned here. Rather, he looks at historical concepts on a spectrum of abstraction, from relatively close to events the French Revolution to more abstract revolutionary change.

Moreover, he makes rigorous attempts to discover the meanings and uses of these concepts in their historical contexts. It has to do with meanings in history, but it is neither teleological nor hermeneutic. It takes seriously the obligation of the historian excavate the historical facts with scrupulous rigor, but it is not empiricist or reductionist. Koselleck provides an innovative and constructive way of formulating the problem of historical knowledge.

The traditions of empiricism and Anglo-American philosophy have also devoted occasional attention to history. Philosophers in this tradition have avoided the questions of speculative philosophy of history and have instead raised questions about the logic and epistemology of historical knowledge. David Hume's empiricism cast a dominant key for almost all subsequent Anglo-American philosophy, and this influence extends to the interpretation of human behavior and the human sciences.

Hume wrote a widely read history of England — His interpretation of history was based on the assumption of ordinary actions, motives, and causes, with no sympathy for theological interpretations of the past. His philosophical view of history was premised on the idea that explanations of the past can be based on the assumption of a fixed human nature.

This approach involves the application of the methods and tools of analytic philosophy to the special problems that arise in the pursuit of historical explanations and historical knowledge Gardiner Here the interest is in the characteristics of historical knowledge: Analytic philosophers emphasized the empirical and scientific status of historical knowledge, and attempted to understand this claim along the lines of the scientific standing of the natural sciences Nagel Philosophers in the analytic tradition are deeply skeptical about the power of non-empirical reason to arrive at substantive conclusions about the structure of the world—including human history.

So analytic philosophers of history have had little interest in the large questions about the meaning and structure of history considered above. The practitioners of speculative philosophy of history, on the other hand, are convinced of the power of philosophical thought to reason through to a foundational understanding of history, and would be impatient with a call for a purely empirical and conceptual approach to the subject. The book attempts to treat both major questions driving much of the philosophy of history: An Oxford philosopher trained in modern philosophy, Walsh was strongly influenced by Collingwood and was well aware of the European idealist tradition of philosophical thinking about history, including Rickert, Dilthey, and Croce, and he treats this tradition in a serious way.

He advances the view that the historian is presented with a number of events, actions, and developments during a period. How do they hang together? Walsh fundamentally accepts Collingwood's most basic premise: So the key intellectual task for the historian, on this approach, is to reconstruct the reasons or motives that actors had at various points in history and perhaps the conditions that led them to have these reasons and motives.

This means that the tools of interpretation of meanings and reasons are crucial for the historian—much as the hermeneutic philosophers in the German tradition had argued. Walsh suggests that the philosophical content of the philosophy of history falls naturally into two different sorts of inquiry, parallel to the distinction between philosophy of nature and philosophy of science. The first has to do with metaphysical questions about the reality of history as a whole; the latter has to do with the epistemic issues that arise in the pursuit and formulation of knowledge of history.

And he attempts to formulate a view of what the key questions are for each approach. Speculative philosophy of history asks about the meaning and purpose of the historical process. Hempel's general theory of scientific explanation held that all scientific explanations require subsumption under general laws. Hempel considered historical explanation as an apparent exception to the covering-law model and attempted to show the suitability of the covering-law model even to this special case.

He argued that valid historical explanations too must invoke general laws. The covering-law approach to historical explanation was supported by other analytical philosophers of science, including Ernest Nagel Hempel's essay provoked a prolonged controversy between supporters who cited generalizations about human behavior as the relevant general laws, and critics who argued that historical explanations are more akin to explanations of individual behavior, based on interpretation that makes the outcome comprehensible.

Donagan and others pointed out the difficulty that many social explanations depend on probabilistic regularities rather than universal laws. The most fundamental objections, however, are these: These include the processes of reasoning through which we understand individual actions—analogous to the methods of verstehen and the interpretation of rational behavior mentioned above Dray A careful re-reading of these debates over the covering-law model in history suggests that the debate took place largely because of the erroneous assumption of the unity of science and the postulation of the regulative logical similarity of all areas of scientific reasoning to a few clear examples of explanation in a few natural sciences.

This approach was a deeply impoverished one, and handicapped from the start in its ability to pose genuinely important questions about the nature of history and historical knowledge. Explanation of human actions and outcomes should not be understood along the lines of an explanation of why radiators burst when the temperature falls below zero degrees centigrade. The insistence on naturalistic models for social and historical research leads easily to a presumption in favor of the covering-law model of explanation, but this presumption is misleading.

Or are forms of bias, omission, selection, and interpretation such as to make all historical representations dependent on the perspective of the individual historian? Does the fact that human actions are value-laden make it impossible for the historian to provide a non-value-laden account of those actions? This topic divides into several different problems, as noted by John Passmore The most studied of these within the analytic tradition is that of the value-ladenness of social action.

Second is the possibility that the historian's interpretations are themselves value-laden—raising the question of the capacity for objectivity or neutrality of the historian herself. Does the intellectual have the ability to investigate the world without regard to the biases that are built into her political or ethical beliefs, her ideology, or her commitments to a class or a social group?


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And third is the question of the objectivity of the historical circumstances themselves. Is there a fixed historical reality, independent from later representations of the facts? There are solutions to each of these problems that are highly consonant with the philosophical assumptions of the analytic tradition. There is no fundamental difficulty in reconciling the idea of a researcher with one set of religious values, who nonetheless carefully traces out the religious values of a historical actor possessing radically different values.

This research can be done badly, of course; but there is no inherent epistemic barrier that makes it impossible for the researcher to examine the body of statements, behaviors, and contemporary cultural institutions corresponding to the other, and to come to a justified representation of the other. One need not share the values or worldview of a sans-culotte , in order to arrive at a justified appraisal of those values and worldview.

Speculative theories

This leads us to a resolution of the second issue as well—the possibility of neutrality on the part of the researcher. The set of epistemic values that we impart to scientists and historians include the value of intellectual discipline and a willingness to subject their hypotheses to the test of uncomfortable facts. Once again, review of the history of science and historical writing makes it apparent that this intellectual value has effect. There are plentiful examples of scientists and historians whose conclusions are guided by their interrogation of the evidence rather than their ideological presuppositions.

Objectivity in pursuit of truth is itself a value, and one that can be followed. Finally, on the question of the objectivity of the past: Is there a basis for saying that events or circumstances in the past have objective, fixed characteristics that are independent from our representation of those events? Is there a representation-independent reality underlying the large historical structures to which historians commonly refer the Roman Empire, the Great Wall of China, the imperial administration of the Qianlong Emperor?

We can work our way carefully through this issue, by recognizing a distinction between the objectivity of past events, actions and circumstances, the objectivity of the contemporary facts that resulted from these past events, and the objectivity and fixity of large historical entities. The past occurred in precisely the way that it did—agents acted, droughts occurred, armies were defeated, new technologies were invented.

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These occurrences left traces of varying degrees of information richness; and these traces give us a rational basis for arriving at beliefs about the occurrences of the past. In each of these instances the noun's referent is an interpretive construction by historical actors and historians, and one that may be undone by future historians. The underlying facts of behavior, and their historical traces, remain; but the knitting-together of these facts into a large historical event does not constitute an objective historical entity.

A third important set of issues that received attention from analytic philosophers concerned the role of causal ascriptions in historical explanations. Is causation established by discovering a set of necessary and sufficient conditions? Can we identify causal connections among historical events by tracing a series of causal mechanisms linking one to the next?

This topic raises the related problem of determinism in history: Was the fall of the Roman Empire inevitable, given the configuration of military and material circumstances prior to the crucial events? Analytic philosophers of history most commonly approached these issues on the basis of a theory of causation drawn from positivist philosophy of science. This theory is ultimately grounded in Humean assumptions about causation: So analytic philosophers were drawn to the covering-law model of explanation, because it appeared to provide a basis for asserting historical causation.

As noted above, this approach to causal explanation is fatally flawed in the social sciences, because universal causal regularities among social phenomena are unavailable. So it is necessary either to arrive at other interpretations of causality or to abandon the language of causality. And it is evident that there are causal circumstances in which no single factor is necessary for the occurrence of the effect; the outcome may be overdetermined by multiple independent factors.

The convergence of reasons and causes in historical processes is helpful in this context, because historical causes are frequently the effect of deliberate human action Davidson So specifying the reason for the action is simultaneously identifying a part of the cause of the consequences of the action.

It is often justifiable to identify a concrete action as the cause of a particular event a circumstance that was sufficient in the existing circumstances to bring about the outcome , and it is feasible to provide a convincing interpretation of the reasons that led the actor to carry out the action. What analytic philosophers of the s did not come to, but what is crucial for current understanding of historical causality, is the feasibility of tracing causal mechanisms through a complex series of events causal realism.

Historical narratives often take the form of an account of a series of events, each of which was a causal condition or trigger for later events. English-speaking philosophy of history shifted significantly in the s, beginning with the publication of Hayden White's Metahistory and Louis Mink's writings of the same period ; Mink et al.

Whereas analytic philosophy of history had emphasized scientific analogies for historical knowledge and advanced the goals of verifiability and generalizability in historical knowledge, English-speaking philosophers in the s and s were increasingly influenced by hermeneutic philosophy, post-modernism, and French literary theory Rorty Affinities with literature and anthropology came to eclipse examples from the natural sciences as guides for representing historical knowledge and historical understanding.

The richness and texture of the historical narrative came in for greater attention than the attempt to provide causal explanations of historical outcomes. Frank Ankersmit captured many of these themes in his treatment of historical narrative ; Ankersmit and Kellner ; see also Berkhofer It emphasizes historical narrative rather than historical causation.

It is intellectually closer to the hermeneutic tradition than to the positivism that underlay the analytic philosophy of history of the s. It highlights features of subjectivity and multiple interpretation over those of objectivity, truth, and correspondence to the facts. Another important strand in this approach to the philosophy of history is a clear theoretical preference for the historicist rather than the universalist position on the status of human nature—Herder rather than Vico.

The prevalent perspective holds that human consciousness is itself a historical product, and that it is an important part of the historian's work to piece together the mentality and assumptions of actors in the past Pompa Significantly, contemporary historians such as Robert Darnton have turned to the tools of ethnography to permit this sort of discovery Another important strand of thinking within analytic philosophy has focused attention on historical ontology Hacking , Little The topic of historical ontology is important, both for philosophers and for practicing historians.

Ontology has to do with the question, what kinds of things do we need to postulate in a given realm? Historical ontology poses this question with regard to the realities of the past. Or should we treat these ideas in a purely nominalistic way, treating them as convenient ways of aggregating complex patterns of social action and knowledge by large numbers of social actors in a time and place? Are there social kinds that recur in history, or is each historical formation unique in important ways?

These are all questions of ontology, and the answers we give to them will have important consequences for how we conceptualize and explain the past. We should begin by asking the basic question: In its most general sense, the term refers to the study of historians' methods and practices. So one task we always have in considering an expert activity is to attempt to identify these standards and criteria of good performance.

This is true for theatre and literature, and it is true for writing history. Historiography is at least in part the effort to do this work for a particular body of historical writing. Several handbooks contain a wealth of recent writings on various aspects of historiography; Tucker , Bentley , Breisach Historians normally make truth claims, and they ask us to accept those claims based on the reasoning they present. So a major aspect of the study of historiography has to do with defining the ideas of evidence, rigor, and standards of reasoning for historical inquiry.

We presume that historians want to discover empirically supported truths about the past, and we presume that they want to offer inferences and interpretations that are somehow regulated by standards of scientific rationality.

Simon Schama challenges some of these ideas in Dead Certainties Schama The historiographer has a related task: There are other desiderata governing a good historical work, and these criteria may change from culture to culture and epoch to epoch. Discerning the historian's goals is crucial to deciding how well he or she succeeds. So discovering these stylistic and aesthetic standards that guide the historian's work is itself an important task for historiography. This means that the student of historiography will naturally be interested in the conventions of historical writing and rhetoric that are characteristic of a given period or school.

What models of explanation? What paradigm of presentation? What standards of style and rhetoric? Historiography becomes itself historical when we recognize that these frameworks of assumptions about historical knowledge and reasoning change over time. On this assumption, the history of historical thinking and writing is itself an interesting subject. How did historians of various periods in human history conduct their study and presentation of history?

Under this rubric we find books on the historiography of the ancient Greeks; Renaissance historiography; or the historiography of German romanticism. Arnaldo Momigliano's writings on the ancient historians fall in this category Momigliano In a nutshell, Momigliano is looking at the several traditions of ancient history-writing as a set of normative practices that can be dissected and understood in their specificity and their cultural contexts.

A second primary use of the concept of historiography is more present-oriented and methodological. It involves the study and analysis of historical methods of research, inquiry, inference, and presentation used by more-or-less contemporary historians. How do contemporary historians go about their tasks of understanding the past? Here we can reflect upon the historiographical challenges that confronted Philip Huang as he investigated the Chinese peasant economy in the s and s Huang , or the historiographical issues raised in Robert Darnton's telling of the Great Cat Massacre Darnton Sometimes these issues have to do with the scarcity or bias in the available bodies of historical records for example, the fact that much of what Huang refers to about the village economy of North China was gathered by the research teams of the occupying Japanese army.

Sometimes they have to do with the difficulty of interpreting historical sources for example, the unavoidable necessity Darnton faced of providing meaningful interpretation of a range of documented events that appear fundamentally irrational. This has led to a tendency to look at other countries' development as non-standard or stunted.

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So global history is, in part, a framework within which the historian avoids privileging one regional center as primary and others as secondary or peripheral. Bin Wong makes this point very strongly in China Transformed Wong Second is the related fact that when Western historical thinkers—for example, Hegel, Malthus, Montesquieu—have turned their attention to Asia, they have often engaged in a high degree of stereotyping without much factual historical knowledge.

The ideas of Oriental despotism, Asian overpopulation, and Chinese stagnation have encouraged a cartoonish replacement of the intricate and diverse processes of development of different parts of Asia by a single-dimensional and reductive set of simplifying frameworks of thought.


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  8. This is one of the points of Edward Said's critique of orientalism Said So a historiography that takes global diversity seriously should be expected to be more agnostic about patterns of development, and more open to discovery of surprising patterns, twists, and variations in the experiences of India, China, Indochina, the Arab world, the Ottoman Empire, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Variation and complexity are what we should expect, not stereotyped simplicity.

    A global history needs to free itself from Eurocentrism. This step away from Eurocentrism in outlook should also be accompanied by a broadening of the geographical range of what is historically interesting. So a global history ought to be global and trans-national in its selection of topics—even while recognizing the fact that all historical research is selective.

    A globally oriented historian will recognize that the political systems of classical India are as interesting and complex as the organization of the Roman Republic. An important current underlying much work in global history is the reality of colonialism through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the equally important reality of anti-colonial struggles and nation building in the s and s.

    So there was a specific interest in gaining certain kinds of knowledge about those societies—in order to better govern them and exploit them. And post-colonial states had a symmetrical interest in supporting global historiography in their own universities and knowledge systems, in order to better understand and better critique the forming relations of the past. A final way in which history needs to become global is to incorporate the perspectives and historical traditions of historians in non-western countries into the mainstream of discussion of major world developments.

    Indian and Chinese historians have their own intellectual traditions in conducting historical research and explanation; a global history is one that pays attention to the insights and arguments of these traditions. So global historiography has to do with a broadened definition of the arena of historical change to include Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas; a recognition of the complexity and sophistication of institutions and systems in many parts of the world; a recognition of the trans-national interrelatedness that has existed among continents for at least four centuries; and a recognition of the complexity and distinctiveness of different national traditions of historiography.

    Dominic Sachsenmaier provides a significant recent discussion of some of these issues Sachsenmaier He wants to take this idea seriously and try to discover some of the implications of different national traditions of academic historiography. As should be clear from these remarks, there is a degree of overlap between historiography and the philosophy of history in the fact that both are concerned with identifying and evaluating the standards of reasoning that are used in various historical traditions.

    That said, historiography is generally more descriptive and less evaluative than the philosophy of history. And it is more concerned with the specifics of research and writing than is the philosophy of history. There is another current of thinking about the philosophy of history that deserves more attention from philosophers than it has so far received. It is the work of philosophically minded historians and historical social scientists treating familiar but badly understood historical concepts: These writings represent a middle-level approach to issues having to do with the logic of historical discourse.

    This aspect of current philosophy of history brings the discipline into close relation to the philosophy of the special sciences biology, sociology, archaeology. Philosophically reflective historians ask critical questions about the concepts and assumptions that are often brought into historical thinking, and they attempt to provide more adequate explication of these concepts given their own encounters with the challenges of historical research and historical explanation.

    Charles Tilly challenges a common assumption that causal reasoning depends on identifying background causal regularities; he argues instead for an approach to causal reasoning that emphasizes the role of concrete causal mechanisms McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly Simon Schama questions the concept of an objective historical narrative that serves to capture the true state of affairs about even fairly simple historical occurrences Charles Sabel casts doubt on the idea of fixed patterns of historical development, arguing that there were alternative pathways available even within the classic case of economic development in western Europe Sabel and Zeitlin As these examples illustrate, there is ample room for productive exchange between philosophers with an interest in the nature of history and the historians and social scientists who have reflected deeply on the complexities of the concepts and assumptions we use in historical analysis.

    It may be useful to close with a sketch of a possible framework for an updated philosophy of history. Any area of philosophy is driven by a few central puzzles. On the one hand, they have distinguished philosophy of history in the traditional or classical sense; this is conceived to be a first-order enquiry, its subject matter being the historical process as a whole and its aim being, broadly speaking, one of providing an overall elucidation or explanation of the course and direction taken by that process.

    On the other hand, they have distinguished philosophy of history considered as a second-order enquiry. Here attention is focused not upon the actual sequence of events themselves but, instead, upon the procedures and categories used by practicing historians in approaching and comprehending their material. The former, often alluded to as speculative philosophy of history, has had a long and varied career; the latter, which is generally known as critical or analytical philosophy of history, did not rise to prominence until the 20th century.

    Myth and history represent alternative ways of looking at the past. Defining history is hardly easier than defining myth, but a historical approach necessarily involves both establishing a chronological framework for events and comparing and contrasting rival traditions in order to produce a coherent…. The belief that it is possible to discern in the course of human history some general scheme or design, some all-encompassing purpose or pattern, is very old and has found expression in various forms at different times and places.

    The reasons for its persistence and vitality are numerous, but two very general considerations may be identified as having exercised a fairly continuous influence. First, it has often been supposed that, if the belief in an overall pattern is abandoned, one is obliged to acquiesce in the view that the historical process consists of no more than an arbitrary succession of occurrences, a mere agglomeration or patchwork of random incidents and episodes.

    But such a view it has been contended cannot be seriously entertained, if only because it conflicts with the basic demand for system and order that underlies and governs all rational enquiry, all meaningful thought about the world. Second, it has frequently been felt that to refuse to allow that history is finally intelligible in the required manner implies a skepticism concerning the value of human life and existence that constitutes an affront to the dignity of human nature.

    Western speculation concerning the meaning of history derived in the first instance chiefly from theological sources. The belief that history conforms to a linear development in which the influence of providential wisdom can be discerned, rather than to a recurrent cyclical movement of the kind implicit in much Greco-Roman thought, was already becoming prevalent early in the Common Era. Traces of this approach are to be found in the conception of the past developed in the 4th century by St.

    Thus, the development of historical speculation in the 18th century was generally marked by a tendency to reject theological and providential interpretations in favour of an approach more closely aligned, in method and aim, to that adopted by natural scientists in their investigations of the physical world. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.

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    Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. Read More on This Topic. Page 1 of 5. Next page Secular approaches: Learn More in these related Britannica articles: Characteristic features of the Christian concept of God. God selects a special people and contracts a special covenant with them. God sets before them…. The prophet Zarathustra Zoroaster; c. On the vigil of Easter and on Pentecost Sunday, God infused him with special knowledge, which enabled him to decode history….

    The second Romantic group, with which Wagner was associated, was concerned only with the use of history to….