Is history largely of interest because of the objective causal relations that exist among historical events and structures like the absolutist state or the Roman Empire? Unless he can affirm that there are some facts which he knows for certain, there is nothing for the historian to build on. If this is right, I may think the same thought, in the sense of the same thought- content, as Julius Caesar, but not revive his precise act of thinking. 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. Collingwood, The Idea of History Oxford, 1946. I should like to make clear that it is nothing of the sort. But an objection to it readily occurs: that the required identity is to be found in the content of what is thought rather than in the act of thinking itself.
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. Giambattista Vico's New Science 1725 offered an interpretation of history that turned on the idea of a universal human nature and a universal history see Berlin 2000 for commentary. I do this because the idealists have to offer a bold and clear-cut account of explanation in history, with which anyone who deals with the subject must come to terms. Plagues and Peoples, Garden City: Doubleday. It sees nothing peculiar in the fact that the historian is concerned with particular events: so are we all in our daily 1 See The Open Society, Vol. A new philosophy of history will shed light on these fundamental issues.
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. Its most fundamental questions can be taken to be: 1 What is the basic theoretical unit in the history of thought? In the Scienza Nuova, he writes: Our Science therefore comes to describe at the same time an ideal eternal history traversed in time by the history of every nation in its rise, progress, maturity, decline, and fall. But we should, I think, recognize that his distinction does answer to a real difference in levels of historical understanding. For the purpose of assessing the status of the propositions of history it is enough to notice that the standard ways of think- ing in the natural sciences of which we have spoken are generally recognized at any particular time, with the result that argu- ments and conclusions in those sciences can claim general acceptance in the scientific world. But there is another side to the matter.
To define history as the study of the past, and attempt to ground its autonomy as a form of knowledge on that point, can thus not be defended. White, Meta-history: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe Baltimore, 1973. Science deals in invariable laws, in generalities, and considers its individual objects only insofar as they are instances of their classes. And the feature of scientific truths which makes this result possible is just their general character, which enables them to be used for purposes of prediction. This leads us to a resolution of the second issue as well—the possibility of neutrality on the part of the researcher. Modern philosophers raising this set of questions about the large direction and meaning of history include Vico, Herder, and Hegel.
They will be the subject of discussion in a later chapter. And the question immediately arises what their being connected implies about the nature of historical thinking. We enumerated various characteristics of scientific thinking, and asked if any- thing corresponding to them could be found in history. Of many of them at least any such claim would be palpably untrue. If any reader is dissatisfied with the brevity of this treatment I can only say I am sorry; but I must make it plain that, in my view, a final decision about the validity of the theory in question rests not with the philosopher but with the historian himself. For historians do certainly recognize some facts as established beyond question that Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and died in 1901, for instance and it is on the basis of these that they build up their whole account. What if the causes of some very large and significant historical events are themselves small, granular, gradual, and cumulative? Analytic philosophy is, perhaps, an implicit respect for argument and clarity, an evolving though informal agreement as to what problems are and are not tractable, and a conviction that philosophy is in some sense continuous with science.
The one thing they cannot say is that any judgment is so secure that it cannot be shaken even in principle. For it seems to me that in historical work of all kinds there is a single overriding aim : to build up an intelligible picture of the human past as a concrete whole, so that it comes alive for us in the same way as the lives of ourselves and our contemporaries. 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 1963. Analytic philosophers tend largely, though not exclusively, to be English-speaking academics whose writings are directed, on the whole, to other English-speaking philosophers. This is one of the points of Edward Said's critique of orientalism Said 1978. It is that it is impossible to separate the pure deliverances of memory from the constructions we ourselves put upon them. Wittfogel and Lattimore interpreted Asian civilizations in terms of large determining factors.
Pure memory, as I have called it, gives us immediate access to the past, but it does not follow that we grasp the past precisely as it was in memory, knowing it as it were by a species of pure intuition. But the distinction, as he might have added, is in the end a relative one, since the contrary of every matter-of-fact statement, even one about which we are supremely confident, is always logically possible. Why should we suppose him to have been unaware that such thought develops out of, and in response to, a background of natural as well as human forces? It might be national—for example, a social and political history of Indonesia. Hegel incorporates a deeper historicism into his philosophical theories than his predecessors or successors. The purpose of the present exposition is only to illustrate the kind of question with which philosophy of history deals or might be thought to deal. Nietzsche, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life 1874 , translated by P. Here there are in fact two terms for the enquiries corresponding to those we are dis- tinguishing, though they are not always used with strict accuracy.
And indeed it is a characteristic of the evidence with which historians deal that it refers not to the present, but the past. But these considerations, valid as they are, cannot explain the whole position. The historian is now allowed as, for example, by Dr. Like Voltaire, his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind published posthumously in 1795 viewed the past as a progress of reason, but was more optimistic about the inevitable progress of liberal ideals such as free speech, democratic government, and the equity of suffrage, education, and wealth. It may well be impossible to detect any deliberate plan here; but is that an insuperable objection to the idealist theory? But a history of Greek painting, or what passes for such a history, is a sorry affair by comparison, consisting of little but the names and approximate dates of a few celebrities, with the titles of their works as recorded by ancient authors. Here in this barbarism of reflection, aided by civil bureaucracy, deceitful language, and cunning reason, our passions are unrestrained by the manners and customs prominent in the Ages of Gods or Heroes to the point that civil society collapses upon itself before returning to a second cycle of history. This account of scientific propositions might well be accepted by philosophers who are generally out of sympathy with the idealist point of view.
The fundamental point here is that we are asking questions from a definite set of presuppositions, and our answers are connected just because of that. Hegel on reason and history: a contemporary interpretation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The view of history perhaps most commonly accepted makes it co-ordinate with perceptual knowledge. In this way, Schelling develops a philosophy of history which. The topic of historical ontology is important, both for philosophers and for practicing historians. The proper interpretation of these changes is a most interesting question, but we cannot go into it here. The other is that he goes beyond such a plain narrative and aims not merely at saying what happened but also at in some sense explaining it.