Toward a Philosophy of History

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Gasset - - Greenwood Press. With an Afterword by John William Miller. Gasset - - Norton. Jose Ortega Y. Gasset - - W.

Marnie Binder - - Journal of the Philosophy of History 4 1 Philosophy of History. Michael T. Leviton eds. World History: The Basics. Peter N. Stearns - - Routledge. Cicero's Philosophy of History. Matthew Fox - - Oxford University Press. Birth and Metamorphosis of the Philosophy of History. Pietro Rossi - - Rivista di Filosofia 3 Email address:. Please provide an email address. Categories of Interest: Select All.

Current Affairs. Historical Fiction. True Crime. Profession: Author. Event Coordinator. Film Executive. Arthur Gobineau 's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races —55 was a decadent description of the evolution of the " Aryan race " which was disappearing through miscegenation. Gobineau's works had a large popularity in the so-called scientific racism theories that developed during the New Imperialism period.

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After the first world war , and even before Herbert Butterfield — harshly criticized it, the Whig interpretation had gone out of style. The bloodletting of that conflict had indicted the whole notion of linear progress. However, the notion itself didn't completely disappear. The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama proposed a similar notion of progress, positing that the worldwide adoption of liberal democracies as the single accredited political system and even modality of human consciousness would represent the " End of History ".

Fukuyama's work stems from a Kojevian reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit Unlike Maurice Godelier who interprets history as a process of transformation, Tim Ingold suggests that history is a movement of autopoiesis [17]. A key component to making sense of all of this is to simply recognize that all these issues in social evolution merely serve to support the suggestion that how one considers the nature of history will impact the interpretation and conclusions drawn about history. The critical under-explored question is less about history as content and more about history as process.

In Steven Pinker wrote a history of violence and humanity from an evolutionary perspective in which he shows that violence has declined statistically over time. After Hegel, who insisted on the role of " great men " in history, with his famous statement about Napoleon , "I saw the Spirit on his horse", Thomas Carlyle argued that history was the biography of a few central individuals, heroes , such as Oliver Cromwell or Frederick the Great , writing that "The history of the world is but the biography of great men. His history of great men, of geniuses good and evil, sought to organize change in the advent of greatness.

Explicit defenses of Carlyle's position have been rare in the late twentieth century. Most philosophers of history contend that the motive forces in history can best be described only with a wider lens than the one he used for his portraits. Danto, for example, wrote of the importance of the individual in history, but extended his definition to include social individuals, defined as "individuals we may provisionally characterize as containing individual human beings amongst their parts.

Examples of social individuals might be social classes [ Dray, Rainbow-Bridge Book Co. For example, to read about what is known today as the " Migrations Period ," consult the biography of Attila the Hun.

Bibliography in philosophy of history

After Marx 's conception of a materialist history based on the class struggle , which raised attention for the first time to the importance of social factors such as economics in the unfolding of history, Herbert Spencer wrote "You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.

The Annales School , founded by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch , were a major landmark on the shift from a history centered on individual subjects to studies concentrating in geography , economics, demography , and other social forces. There is disagreement about the extent to which history is ultimately deterministic see historical determinism. Some argue that geography see geographic determinism , economic systems see economic determinism , or culture see cultural determinism prescribe "the iron laws of history" that decide what is to happen.


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Others see history as a long line of acts and accidents, big and small, each playing out its consequences until that process gets interrupted by the next. Even determinists do not rule that, from time to time, certain cataclysmic events occur to change course of history.

Their main point is, however, that such events are rare and that even apparently large shocks like wars and revolutions often have no more than temporary effects on the evolution of the society. Karl Marx is, perhaps, the most famous of the exponents of economic determinism. For him social institutions like political system, religion and culture were merely by-products of the basic economic system see Base and superstructure.

However, even he did not see history as completely deterministic.


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  7. His essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon contains the most famous formulation of Marx's view of the role of the individual in history: Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past. Theodicy claimed that history had a progressive direction leading to an eschatological end, given by a superior power. However, this transcendent teleological sense can be thought as immanent to human history itself.

    Hegel probably represents the epitome of teleological philosophy of history. Thinkers such as Nietzsche , Michel Foucault , Althusser , or Deleuze deny any teleological sense to history, claiming that it is best characterized by discontinuities, ruptures, and various time-scales, which the Annales School had demonstrated. Schools of thought influenced by Hegel also see history as progressive, but they saw, and see, progress as the outcome of a dialectic in which factors working in opposite directions are over time reconciled see above.

    History was best seen as directed by a Zeitgeist , and traces of the Zeitgeist could be seen by looking backward. Hegel believed that history was moving man toward " civilization ", and some also claim he thought that the Prussian state incarnated the " End of History ". In his Lessons on the History of Philosophy , he explains that each epochal philosophy is in a way the whole of philosophy; it is not a subdivision of the Whole but this Whole itself apprehended in a specific modality.

    A classic example of history being written by the victors—or more precisely, by the survivors [21] —would be the scarcity of unbiased information that has survived to the present about the Carthaginians. Roman historians left tales of cruelty and human sacrifice practiced by their longtime enemies; however no Carthaginian was left alive to give their side of the story.

    Similarly, we only have the Christian side of how Christianity came to be the dominant religion of Europe. However, we know very little about other European religions, such as Paganism.

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    In many respects, the head of state may be guilty of cruelties or even simply a different way of doing things. In some societies, however, to speak of or write critically of rulers can amount to conviction of treason and death. As such, in many ways, what is left as the "official record" of events is oft influenced by one's desire to avoid exile or execution.

    However, "losers" in certain time periods often have more of an impetus than the "winners" to write histories that comfort themselves and justify their own behavior. Confederate generals such as Lee and Jackson are generally held in higher esteem than their Union counterparts. Also, despite "losing" the Vietnam War , the United States produces more scholarship on the war than any other country, including Vietnam. As is true of pre-Columbian populations of America , the historical record of America being "discovered" by Europeans is now sometimes presented as a history of invasion, exploitation and dominance of a people who had been there before the Europeans.

    This reinterpretation of the historical record is called historical revisionism , which can take the form of negationism , which is the denial of genocides and crimes against humanity. The revision of previously accepted historical accounts is a constant process in which "today's winners are tomorrow's losers", and the rise and fall of present institutions and movements influence the way historians see the past. Thus, in contradiction with the February 23, law on colonialism , voted by the UMP conservative party, historian Benjamin Stora notes that:. As Algerians do not appear in their "indigenous" conditions and their sub-citizens status, as the history of nationalist movement is never evoqued, as none of the great figures of the resistance — Messali Hadj , Ferhat Abbas — emerge nor retain attention, in one word, as no one explains to students what has been colonisation, we make them unable to understand why the decolonisation took place.

    The historico-political discourse analyzed by Michel Foucault in Society Must Be Defended —76 considered truth as the fragile product of a historical struggle, first conceptualized under the name of " race struggle "—however, the meaning of "race" was different from today's biological notion, being closer to the sense of "nation" distinct from nation-states ; its signification is here closer to "people".

    Toward A Philosophy Of History

    Boulainvilliers , for example, was an exponent of nobility rights. He claimed that the French nobility were the racial descendants of the Franks who invaded France while the Third Estate was descended from the conquered Gauls , and had right to power by virtue of right of conquest. He used this approach to formulate a historical thesis of the course of French political history—a critique of both the monarchy and the Third Estate.

    Foucault regarded him as the founder of the historico-political discourse as political weapon. In Great Britain, this historico-political discourse was used by the bourgeoisie, the people and the aristocracy as a means of struggle against the monarchy—cf. Edward Coke or John Lilburne.


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    Finally, at the end of the nineteenth century, this discourse was incorporated by racialist biologists and eugenicists , who gave it the modern sense of "race" and, even more, transformed this popular discourse into a " state racism " Nazism. According to Foucault, Marxists also seized this discourse and took it in a different direction, transforming the essentialist notion of "race" into the historical notion of " class struggle ", defined by socially structured position: capitalist or proletarian.

    This displacement of discourse constitutes one of the bases of Foucault's thought: discourse is not tied to the subject , rather the "subject" is a construction of discourse. Moreover, discourse is not the simple ideological and mirror reflexion of an economical infrastructure , but is a product and the battlefield of multiples forces—which may not be reduced to the simple dualist contradiction of two energies. Foucault shows that what specifies this discourse from the juridical and philosophical discourse is its conception of truth: truth is no longer absolute, it is the product of "race struggle".

    History itself, which was traditionally the sovereign's science, the legend of his glorious feats and monument building,he the sovereign built monuments,fought in wars and claims victory on behalf of himself which ultimately became the discourse of the people modern population , a political stake. The subject is not any more a neutral arbitrator , judge, or legislator , as in Solon 's or Kant's conceptions.

    Therefore, what became the " historical subject " must search in history's furor, under the "juridical code's dried blood", the multiple contingencies from which a fragile rationality temporarily finally emerged. This may be, perhaps, compared to the sophist discourse in Ancient Greece. Foucault warns that it has nothing to do with Machiavelli 's or Hobbes 's discourse on war, for to this popular discourse, the Sovereign is nothing more than "an illusion, an instrument, or, at the best, an enemy.

    Since Plato 's Republic , civic education and instruction has had a central role in politics and the constitution of a common identity.

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    History has thus sometimes become the target of propaganda , for example in historical revisionist attempts.