Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History

By Schellhammer, Erich P. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History


Schellhammer, Erich P., The Review of Metaphysics


Patocka Jan. Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. Translated by Erazim Kohak. Edited by James Dodd. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 1996. xvi + 189 pp. Cloth, $39.95; paper, $16.95--Patocka's Heretical Essays were first published in Czechoslovakia in 1975. The essays display a unique phenomenological interpretation of Western history. In the first essay Patocka explains his project as being based on a phenomenology of "work, production, action, and creation" (p. 5). Following Heidegger's phenomenology, Patocka accepts concealment of being and the distinction of ontic and ontological phenomena. However, Patocka departs from Heidegger by emphasizing the historical dependencies of being. Initially, people were natural. They worked to survive without using their ability to problematize. The transition to historical being is marked by the conception of divine life. This life is not marred by work, pain, birth, and death. Human life is distinct from divine life though there is resemblance through the eternal character of the human community by means of generative continuity. This idea presupposes a questioning that puts humankind on the journey of history.

In the second essay, "The Beginning of History," Patocka blames understanding for historical humanity. This understanding, phronesis, happens within a community, polis, and is characterized by commonality, polemos. In "Does History have a Meaning?" being is characterized as meaningful dependent upon truth or a "global meaning of the totality of what is, of life and of events" (p. 58). At the beginning of Western history, philosophy, defined as questioning, generates metaphysics (described as the Idea and sheer thinghood) as meaning. However, metaphysics generates numerous concepts of itself thus undermining philosophy's credibility. Consequently, humanity turns to Christian faith, which is more capable than reason to provide for a solid foundation of meaning. In the aftermath, European humanity tries in vain to generate in a secularized fashion what faith has given. The failed attempts to be like God lead to a denial of all meaning, that is, nihilism, or equally destructive, to an assumed mastery over nature.

The fourth essay ventures in more details into Patocka's analysis of Western history. …

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