Approaches to History: Selections in the Philosophy of History from the Greeks to Hegel

Approaches to History: Selections in the Philosophy of History from the Greeks to Hegel

Approaches to History: Selections in the Philosophy of History from the Greeks to Hegel

Approaches to History: Selections in the Philosophy of History from the Greeks to Hegel

Excerpt

This book is not intended either to show why history happened that way or that civilization is at the crossroads. It has a more modest purpose: to show how some thinkers, most of whom were not historians, tried to make the past meaningful to their own present. None of these thinkers was primarily concerned with how history ought to be written: but they were all trying, in one way or another, to explain how it was to be interpreted. Most of the speculation in this field today is by philosophers, whose business it is to analyze abstract concepts within some particular framework of meaning. Historians, on the other hand, usually assess concrete evidence relating to a particular series of past events. The authors in these readings fall into neither category, although they have something in common with both: most of them have related large groups of historical events to an abstraction, sometimes philosophical and sometimes theological, in order to demonstrate a kind of inner coherence in the past as a whole that neither historians nor philosophers today would ordinarily attempt. (Toynbee is a notable exception.) Since I am a historian, not a philosopher or theologian, I have tried, both in the choice of readings and in the prefaces, not so much to offer a critique of the standard of truth these writers used but to suggest why an author writing within his particular cultural and intellectual framework would have seen patterns in that way.

Philosophy of history can be defined as the attempt to relate the whole human past, or even any considerable part of it, to a . . .

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