Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

Raymond Aron*

The philosophy of history customarily includes multiple problems which are as difficult to separate completely as to treat simultaneously. One might, for example, distinguish the theory or methodology of historical knowledge, from the concrete interpretation of global history, as has been the practice of St. Augustine or Hegel, Spengler or Toynbee. One might add, eventually, between formal and material philosophy, an intermediate domain, that of the formalism of concrete interpretation: we are thinking of the questions traditionally discussed, such as the role of the individual and the masses, of rationality or contingency, etc.

There is no question of denying the scholarly or pragmatic legitimacy of such a classification. But it would be vain to expect it to be the object of a unanimous agreement, as if it did not involve the very basis of the dispute. The conception of historical intuition is bound up, for Spengler, with the conception of becoming, of destiny, of symbolism, of analogy. A single metaphysics of time and history commands the theory of historical knowledge and that of historical reality. Likewise, for Marx, the theory of dialectic arises from the formal philosophy of history, but is inseparable from the philosophy dealing with the concrete. Dialectical materialism sends us back, on the one hand, to a logic of knowledge, on the other, to a certain idea of the proletariat and its mission. The unity of philosophies defies academic distinctions: one makes an uninterrupted transition from formal to material, from analysis of knowing to determination of the meaning of the human adventure through the centuries.

The explanation of this unity of problems seems to me to be the following: the primacy of the material over the formal, of the ontological (in the meaning of the phenomenologists) over the logical. Doubtless, it

____________________
*
Born in 1905. Agrégé de Philosophic, 1928. Formerly professor at the Lycée of Havre and Master of Conferences in social philosophy, Toulouse. At present, contributor to the daily press in France, notably Combat and Figaro. Author of works on sociology and the philosophy of history, including Le grand schisme ( 1948).

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