P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 154
7th July 2010
I. 'Call for Manuscripts and Reviewers: ISFP Publishing' by Geoffrey
II. 'Philosophy, Language and Art' by Tony Fahey
III. 'Twentieth-Century Universal Historical Paradigms of the
Philosophy of History' by Piotr Wasyluk
Our first article, a call for manuscripts and reviewers for ISFP
Publishing http://www.isfp.co.uk/publishing/, an initiative launched
by the International Society for Philosophers, went out last Friday
to the professional philosophy lists Philos-L at Liverpool University
UK, and Philosop at the University of Louisiana USA. So far, the
response from academic philosophers has been very encouraging.
However, you don't need to be an academic philosopher to take part in
this exciting new project.
In the third of his articles for Philosophy Pathways, Anthony Fahey
looks at the idea of 'language' in an extended sense which refers to
all the arts including music, painting and cinema. The idea that in
understanding a work of are we are getting to grips with something
analogous to a statement or communication, which presupposes an
understanding of the rules for the combination of repeatable
elements, is a potent one which yields valuable insights into the
nature of artistic activity.
From Poland, Dr Piotr Wasyluk of the University of Warmia and Mazury
in Olsztyn has written a very informative essay on the philosophy of
history in the 20th century, looking at the different ways in which
contemporary thinkers as diverse as Spengler, Toynbee, Weber,
Fukuyama, Jaspers and Sartre have approached the question of the
meaning of human history. In the light of his investigation, the end
of history prophesied by Fukuyma amongst others is more more
described as merely the end of a 'certain kind of history'.
I. CALL FOR MANUSCRIPTS AND REVIEWERS: ISFP PUBLISHING
International Society for Philosophers: ISFP Publishing
Publishing is not a new venture for the International Society for
Philosophers. We have two electronic journals, Philosophy Pathways
and Philosophy for Business.
However, the idea of book publishing is something else entirely. This
is not a great time to be a book publisher from an economic
standpoint, and the ISFP is hardly in a position to take the
considerable financial risks involved. The reality is that the ISFP
is run on a shoestring, staffed entirely by volunteers. It is only
the wonder of the internet which enables an international
organization such as ours to exist at all.
That was my thinking up to a month ago, when I received an intriguing
offer from ISFP Board member Matthew Del Nevo. The argument was made
that we have a respected name in the academic world, which gives us a
very real advantage compared to a publishing venture starting from
square one. But still, the lack of finance was a major obstacle.
Meanwhile, Rachel Browne another ISFP Board member had been
corresponding with author Nick Acocella who has found himself
frustrated by the difficulties in finding a commercial publisher
for his very original work. Nick Acocella's book pushes the
boundaries in a manner that would make many publishers extremely
nervous. What do you you do? Do you send off proposal after proposal,
hoping eventually that you will strike lucky and find a publisher
prepared to go the extra mile?
So we formed the idea of a service which would help authors by
offering the chance to attract academically qualified reviewers who
would put their weight behind a book publishing proposal, as well as
providing, in effect, an ongoing in-depth editorial service.
We are not offering these books for sale. The only way to get a copy
is to request a copy for review. Membership of the ISFP will be a
point in favour of your request for a review copy being granted, but
it is not a guarantee.
We are issuing a call for manuscripts, on any topic related to
philosophy. Philosophical novels will be just as welcome as works on
philosophical anthropology or the philosophy of physics.
Manuscripts need to be in a tidy state -- which have been checked for
grammar, spelling, factual errors etc. -- but not necessarily up to
full publishable standard. The assumption is that a manuscript will
go through several revisions before the author is ready to submit a
proposal to a commercial publisher. The ISFP would be able to give
its full backing, having seen the work through each stage of its
We are launching ISFP Publishing with a list of just four works. In
addition to the books by Nick Acocella and [Removed]
Pathways mentor Martin Jenkins has agreed to allow us to include the
expanded version of his ISFP Fellowship dissertation on Nietzsche
which he is hoping to get published. To encourage others, and to show
a good example, I have added an updated version of my work 'Ethical
It is fair to say that all four works court controversy, in different
ways. As I state on the front page of the ISFP Publishing site, 'We
welcome authors who are prepared to take risks and rock the boat. No
subject is taboo. Philosophy should push you out of your comfort
zone.' -- That is not to say that a book has to be controversial in
order to be included on our list. But it should at least encourage
the reader to think differently.
Books should be submitted as a single document in Word (.doc or
.docx). This will be converted to a PDF file. Details of the work and
the private download location will be circulated to members of the
Board of the ISFP. In order to be added to the public ISFP Publishing
list, a work needs at least one member of the Board who is prepared to
sponsor it. Knowing the expertise which the Board collectively muster,
I am confident that this will be sufficient to keep the list looking
Here is the current list which you will find on the ISFP Publishing
1. Nick Acocella -- The Divine Inspiration of Porn and the
Beginning of Sexual Metaphysics
3. Martin Jenkins -- Aristocratic Radicalism or Anarchy? An
Examination of Nietzsche's Doctrine of Will to Power
4. Geoffrey Klempner -- Ethical Dilemmas: a primer for decision
For more details, including short descriptions, reviews and authors
bios, go to the ISFP Publishing site
http://www.isfp.co.uk/publishing/. There is a form for submitting
requests for review copies on the web site.
Please send all comments, inquiries, submissions to me at
klempner@fastmail. net. I look forward to hearing from you!
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2010
II. 'PHILOSOPHY, LANGUAGE AND ART' BY TONY FAHEY
When Oscar Wilde, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, wrote 'Words! Mere
words! How terrible they were! How clear, and cruel! One could not
escape them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them!'
(1994:26/7), he was articulating a view of the power of language
which has been abroad since the time of Plato and before. However,
whilst Wilde's novel deals with the persuasiveness of the verbal and
written forms of language (in that the decadent personality of the
main protagonist, Dorian Gray, is seen to be fashioned by the
exponents of the 'new hedonism' of people like Lord Henry Wooton and
the influences of a secret 'Yellow Book'), the central theme centres
on the powerful 'language' of painting, and leads the reader to the
realisation that the term 'language' involves more than verbal and
In archaeology history of civilisations long extinct can be
understood through the ability to read the 'language' of ancient
artefacts. Psychologists argue that they can 'read' much of the state
of mind of patients through their 'body language'; even much of our
everyday communication is performed by tacit semiotics: a raised
eyebrow, an upturned lip, or a knowing wink can 'speak' volumes. This
paper turns to consider the role of language in philosophy,
literature, cinema and music.
Literature, or the literary form of art, deals with the realm of
linguistic signs as natural language. For Ferdinand de Saussure these
linguistic signs' are purely conventional or arbitrary. That is, the
relationship between the sign (which Saussure calls the signifier)
and the object to which it refers (the signified) is strictly
arbitrary. For example, there is no innate reason why the signifier
'd-o-g' should refer to a domestic animal other than the fact that it
has been decided so by historical or cultural convention. The
arbitrariness of the sign allows that it can change over time
(examples of the relative or changeable nature of signifiers can be
seen in the manner in which certain 'politically correct' or
'incorrect' references can change over time).
However, while Saussure brings our attention to the arbitrariness of
signs, Noam Chomsky argues that the rules of grammar which structure
these signs in a comprehensible format are innate. Chomsky's
fundamental thesis is that while there can be a plurality of
different surface structures, or 'signifiers', there are general
underlying features of grammar that are common to all languages and
reflect the fundamental properties of the mind. Thus, for Chomsky,
whilst the literary use of language may involve the use of signs
which are arbitrary, these signs are subject to laws of a universal
grammar which exist a priori in the human mind. For example, all
natural languages are made up of words -- morphemes -- which, in
turn, are made up of vowels and consonants -- phonemes. In order to
construct a meaningful term from these 'signs' it is necessary to
construct them in an order which can facilitate intersubjective
information. Ludwig Wittgenstein held that 'language... is embedded
in rules of use followed by language users' (see R. Holt,
Wittgenstein, Politics and Human Rights.1997: 41). What this means is
that language is a shared social activity, a publicly defeasable act
of conformity whose norms and practices are governed by a priori
rules of grammar.
While language in everyday discourse is primarily functional in that
it acts as a tool to communicate and to effect changes in reality, in
literature, rather than necessarily providing us with factual or new
information about the world, it enables us to see, understand and
experience ourselves and our world differently. Unlike scientific or
everyday language, which is primarily denotative, literature is
'connotative' or 'metaphorical': it is suggestive and does not always
say what it means. For example, when the poet John Donne (1572-1631)
discusses the effect of a flea-bite in his poem 'The Flea', what he
is really doing is challenging the sexual mores of English society in
the sixteenth century.
Literary language, then, is also both self-referential and
self-revelational: paradoxically, by focusing primarily on the
aesthetic value of a work, it succeeds in providing a utilitarian
function. However, since this function is not its primary aim, the
aesthetic value of the work remains intact.
Let me explain. For Shakespeare, the language of the sonnet
transcends our common conception of what it is natural: it challenges
our presuppositions and preoccupations of what is normal to reveal not
only other dimensions of nature, but also other dimensions of
ourselves. For example, in his 'Sonnet 20', while he appears to be
preoccupied with the sexuality of his 'Master Mistris', what he is in
fact doing is paying tribute to the virtue of Beauty itself. In this
sonnet, the speaker's love of beauty is not homoerotic, since the
addition of the penis adds nothing to his purpose; neither is the
attraction heterosexual since the lover of beauty acknowledges that
his personification of beauty is in a corporeal sense 'prict... out
of women's pleasure' (Sonnet 20:14). Rather it is that his
androgynous creature's beauty transcends the beauty of mere mortals
to the level of Platonic or Absolute Beauty 'not seen by the eyes
alone but grasped conceptually by the mind alone' (Plato, Phaedrus,
65, 75d). What Shakespeare shows is that while literary language is
not something that necessarily exists for primarily functional
purposes, its self-referentiality compels us to consider it
polyvalent and polysemic properties, which stimulate and gratify our
sense and expand our awareness of ourselves and the world around us.
The literary use of language, then, is a system of signs which, from
a Chomskian perspective, is bound together by a universal grammar.
While it would be stretching things to suggest that these signs are
analogous to the signs of other arts, it can be argued that they can
be understood to constitute a model for all other sign-systems within
the general science of semiology. That is, in the same way that the
language of literature is a system of signs, so too can music,
cinema, and all other forms of art, be understood as 'languages' with
their own particular sign-systems or 'language games'.
Cinematic text, for example, can be said to resemble literary text in
the sense that it can be 'read' by its 'signs'. However, it should be
said that the difference between cinematic text and literary text is
that we know that we read a book from left to right, we are less
conscious of how we read the 'text' of cinematic images.
Semiotically, cinema approximates reality much more than a novel by
presenting us with dynamic and iconic images, rather than static and
verbally symbolic ones. That is, a cinematic representation of a dog
can be said to be much closer to the physical, real-world animal than
a morpheme 'dog' as it appears in print or uttered in speech. However,
whilst cinema represents reality more immediately than literary
semiotics, it should be said that it nonetheless remains a mimetic
artefact. That is, while the technological apparatus of cinema
mediates life in a highly sophisticated way which tends to disguise
the frame of its discourse, it is essentially a language whose
conventions are culturally created and not absolute truth. Thus,
whilst cinema is a language, unlike literary language, it has no
innate, underlying rules or structures. In short, cinema is a
language without grammar.
Essentially there are three types of cinema: the icon, the index, and
the symbol. The icon is a sign where the signifier represents the
signified by the similarity or likeness of one to the other (as in a
portrait). The index is a sign in which there is an existential bond
between the sign and the object: the signifier is equal to the
signified. While it is not an arbitrary sign, nor is it identical, it
nonetheless bears some relationship to the object (like a fingerprint
on a page, or a footprint in the sand. A symbol is an arbitrary sign
in which the signifier has neither an iconic nor an indexical
relationship to the signified, but rather represents it through
convention. In other words, an icon is a short-circuit (or identical
sign), a symbol is an arbitrary (or conventional sign), and an index
is somewhere in between: it has a relationship that is neither
identical nor arbitrary but representational.
Psychologist Stephen Pinker, following Chomsky's approach, reminds us
that all neurologically normal people speak and understand complex
language, and the complexity of spoken vernaculars varies little
across cultures and periods. In contrast, while everyone enjoys
listening to music, many people cannot hold a tune, fewer can play an
instrument, and those who can play need explicit training and
extensive practice. While this suggests that music is quite different
from spoken or written language, Pinker insists that there are
parallels. In the same way that the world's languages conform to a
grammaire generale, he says, so too do the world's idioms conform to
an abstract universal grammar (see How Mind Works.1997:527).
Musicologist Ray Jackenhoff also holds that Chomsky's universal
grammar theory is relevant to music. Music, he maintains, is built up
from a catalogue, or inventory, of notes and a set of a priori rules
of (musical) grammar. According to Jackenhoff, musical sounds (notes)
are assembled into a sequence by these innate rules which are
superimposed onto the string of notes. When we listen to a piece of
music, says Pinker, we are subliminally assembling it within these
inherent mental structures. (See Pinker, ibid: 528/9.)
Music, then, is the language of sounds. In the same way that a
sentence in the verbal or written language is constructed of phonemes
and morphemes, so too is musical discourse constructed of musical
notation, sound and pitch. That is, they are to music what vowels and
consonants are to literature. While music appeals to our most primal
instincts, in that it seems to be strongly associated with our
biological pulsations and metabolic processes, it is also a complex
language: not only is it organised according to the four basic
elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre (colour), but these
elements are in turn broken down into time symbols which consist of
rests between notes and chords.
Time symbols, it can be said, are the nuts and bolts of music. They
are what sets music apart from other streams of sound, and are used
to denote the duration and position of musical sounds in relation to
the beat, or rhythm. Different time symbols are used to represent
note and rests. For example, a symbol for a note which contains four
beats is called a semibreve, the corresponding symbol for a rest of
the same duration (four beats) is called a semibreve rest. The
semibreve, or whole note, can be subdivided into minims (half-notes),
crotchets (quarter-notes), quavers (eighth-notes), semiquavers
(sixteenth-notes) and demiquavers (thirty-second-notes), each with
their corresponding time value rest symbol. Two or more notes played
together constitute a chord which is subject to the same time value
as a note, and the temporal sequence within which the syntactical
discourse, or melody, takes place, is called a musical scale. The art
of combining these musical elements into a coherent perceptual
experience -- a 'language' -- typically in accordance with the
conventional patterns and for aesthetic purposes, is called music.
In conclusion, I would suggest that the analogous nature of language
proves a vital tool in the philosophical discussion and analysis of
individual forms of art, not least in that it emphasises the reliance
of philosophical investigation on the use of metaphor. For example, in
philosophy, where would the understanding of such concepts as
'language-games', ubermensch,'Leviathans', or 'utopias' and so on, be
without being able to grasp their metaphorical intent? In literature,
what would our enjoyment of works such as Swift's Gulliver's Travels
be without an awareness of the satirical significance of allegory or
analogous references; or our understanding of Molly Bloom's soliloquy
in Joyce's Ulysses without an appreciation of the double entendre? In
short, what is art if we cannot read its sign systems: its
Language privileges us to transform the ideal into the real: the
metaphysical into the actual. It allows us to share our subjective,
aesthetic experiences with others: to make manifest, through its sign
systems, our realisations, experiences, feelings, and ideas. And it
allows us to understand the intentionality of others. Most of all,
language brings us to the realisation that we do not live in a
solipsist bubble of consciousness. Through art, nature is transformed
into culture; through language, art is transformed into understanding.
In literature, cinema and music, as in all forms of art, the conduit
between the idea and the manifestation of the idea, is language.
Through art we are privileged to enter into the private world of
ideas of the individual. A world of ideas to which language, in all
its forms, is the key.
(c) Anthony Fahey 2010
Web site: http://www.tonyfahey.com
III. 'TWENTIETH-CENTURY UNIVERSAL HISTORICAL PARADIGMS OF THE
PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY' BY PIOTR WASYLUK
The nineteenth-century crisis of traditional metaphysics completed a
certain period of philosophical thinking about history. Historical
processes ceased being seen as objective and rational.
Representatives of the new approach referred to the exceptionality
and uniqueness of phenomena. They focused on the role cultural,
social and human factors play in history development. Defying the
Hegelian model of understanding history, they reached for
sociological and anthropological analyses, trying to define models of
changes and dynamics of phenomena in the world. History stopped being
the domain of philosophers and professional historians and began to
be an object of interest for social sciences. The end of the
philosophy of history announced by J. Burckhardt became just an
unfulfilled postulate. Philosophical reflection over history defined
its subject anew, transforming into reflection over culture,
civilization, social reality and people and the essence of their
Taking the specificity of research methods of their own disciplines
as a point of departure, many thinkers went beyond the aspect
perspective of perceiving reality and entered the field of
philosophical thinking, construing a holistic picture of human
history on the basis of their own research. Owing to such an
approach, there originated many concepts which aimed at showing the
history of the world as an ontological, epistemological and
axiological context of the rise of phenomena which were unknown
earlier. Social sciences gained philosophical justification for their
answers. Due to new dimensions of metaphysics they could critically
analyze and correct the fallacies of their thinking. On the other
hand, philosophical reflection started to prefer -- over pure
speculation -- conclusions relating to cultural, social and human
studies, without which it is today impossible to practice the
philosophy of history. Including the results of exact sciences,
philosophy did not have to resign from its maximalism, that is an
aspiration to explain the phenomenon of historicality holistically.
New paradigms of the twentieth-century philosophy of history may be
thus seen as a continuation of the reflections of previous
generations of philosophers, for whom the will to explain the whole
of reality constituted the essence of philosophical reflection.
In consecutive historical epochs, the importance of philosophy
changed in line with transformations of the cognitive consciousness.
It also depended on the place taken by philosophical reflection in
the structure of knowledge about reality. The nineteenth-century
breakthrough in philosophy, whose functions were taken over by exact
sciences and the requirements of functionality, made philosophers
resign from an apodictic belief forced by Hegel that philosophy is a
fundamental science about the world.
The change which affected philosophy in the second half of the
twentieth century involved also the philosophy of history. According
to H.M. Baumgartner, it should be associated with the fall of
principles on which visions of human history had until then been
built. The belief -- characteristic for the Enlightenment philosophy
and German idealism -- that history is immanently rational was
abandoned together with -- after the French Revolution -- the
optimistic belief in the ideals of progress. Simultaneously,
empirical-historical social sciences were taking shape and
naturalistic views on reality spread. More and more often
philosophical reflection about the world was rejected, since it was
thought to limit scientific thinking. Philosophical truth was
replaced with scientific hypotheses. As a Polish sociologist and
anthropologist F. Znaniecki claimed, all systematic philosophy, and
especially metaphysics, was primarily flawed by its striving to
achieve the absolute truth at all costs, at the same time rejecting
all knowledge which was not unanimous with this truth.
Thus basic accusations concerned the fact that speculative philosophy
of history could not reconcile its general terms concerning the
historical process with individual facts. This kind of philosophy
treated historical material as secondary to metaphysical foundations.
Hence speculation was preferred over establishing facts and
reconstructing the past scientifically. In the context of the
development of historical sciences, the philosophy of history became
one of the most controversial philosophical disciplines. It got
nullified as independent reflection over history and started to be
regarded as one of many disciplines of studies over reality.
Criticism was addressed also to its aspirations to explain reality as
a whole, that is to establish the objective, mechanisms,
characteristics and ultimate sense of the historical process. It
transformed into the epistemology of historical knowledge, and in the
places where it still was of interest it took the form of 'criticism
of historical reason' (W. Dilthey). According to K. Mannheim, its
position resembled the position of a king who kept his insignia but
was devoid of any power.
The philosophical breakthrough, in which all-encompassing schemas of
historical development lost their credibility, should not however be
identified with the ultimate end of philosophical reflection over
history, but rather only with the change in the paradigms of this
reflection. Criticism of the philosophy of history, forwarded by the
representatives of the new approach to philosophy and history -- A.
Schopenhauer, J. Burckhardt and F. Nietzsche -- constituted an
attempt to neutralize the hitherto existing maximalism of the vision
of history and to replace them with an anthropocentric and
Schopenhauer claimed that history should not be treated as a science
in the narrow meaning of the word. It is a kind of knowledge which
can grasp its subject only directly and individually, and not through
the general. According to the German philosopher, history should be
rather treated as a universal theory of human activities which
constitute a manifestation of the ahistorical and unchangeable human
nature. Schopenhauer believed that 'man never changes', thus real
philosophy should be engaged exactly in what is unchangeable and
constant. According to J. Garewicz, in order to get to know people's
behavior one does not have to reach to history, it is enough to
observe the present. Schopenhauer rejected the rationality of
history and a possibility of finding there an objective sense in
order to question Hegel's historicism and an optimistic belief that
the ideal of progress can become real.
Schopenhauer's pessimism was an inspiration to J. Burckhardt, who saw
the German philosopher's criticism as a source of arguments confirming
the ultimate fall of idealistic philosophy, and additionally used them
to put forward a thesis that European culture was in crisis.
Burckhardt was opposed to the possibility of assigning an objective
value to history. He accused speculative philosophy of history of
monistic tendencies and absolutism, and stated that philosophy and
history do not share their subjects. Owing to Burckhardt, history
ceased being a sphere in which universal ideas were present, and
became a place of confrontations of cultural values and
culture-forming pursuits of individual people. According to a Polish
historian A. Rogalski, Burckhardt saw culture through the prism of
life and activities of concrete individuals. Fascination with
multiplicity and diversity of cultures as well as opposition towards
the absolutist tendencies of the philosophy of history leading to
homogenized reality were decisive in the way history was perceived in
the nineteenth century. They were an inspiration to many critics of
the contemporary culture, among whom F. Nietzsche appeared to be most
According to Nietzsche, one should change the way of perceiving human
history. The ultimate sense or objective of the world does not exist.
Its value is read by individuals in their everyday struggle with
reality. The world is a process of constant becoming and our
knowledge about it is tantamount to subjective interpretation. Life
is the only value which constitutes a tenacious foundation of human
existence in the world and -- at the same time -- a criterion of its
evaluation. According to Nietzsche, history matters only if it does
not oppose life. Culture might be hence perceived as a place of
struggle of opposing tendencies and immemorial fighting among strong
individuals, gifted with the will for power, and weak individuals,
governed by ressentiment and characterized by commonness and lack of
originality. Nietzsche's criticism of historical culture was aimed
primarily against ethical universalism, which for him negated the
will of life. Nietzsche's belief in the superiority of life
constituted the basic source for criticism of scientific history,
which he saw as restorative mimicry. He wrote about naive historians
who -- using the slogan of objectivism to smuggle in their own
subjective opinions -- subjugate the past to the trivial opinions of
their own epoch. Such historical writing was juxtaposed by
Nietzsche, similarly to what Schopenhauer did, with the ideal of
history serving life, a synonym of unlimited creativity and
spontaneity, closer to poetry than to scientific cognition.
The turn which came in the second half of the twentieth century was
to portend the crisis of the hitherto accepted philosophy of history.
Skepticism towards universal approaches to history as a normative
foundation of existence led to the development of theoretical
reflection over history among both philosophers and historians. One
can thus ask if the contemporary awareness of the crisis of
philosophy might be connected with a definite cessation of a certain
way of perceiving reality, or if this awareness was a symptom of its
vivacity. The crisis of the historical culture and the history of
philosophy should not be treated as a definite break with
philosophical reflection over history or the end of history. It was
just a remonstration against a certain way of thinking about the
human world which predominantly lacked perceiving humans as active
and spontaneous creators. This criticism may be treated as an attempt
to establish a new pattern which would facilitate a new outlook on
history as an exceptional and irreducible multiplicity of events and
values. It was thus the period in which it was attempted to replace
speculation with knowledge about the real world, a question was asked
'what is', and not 'what should be'.
The turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century is the period when
new philosophical attitudes took shape, attitudes which constituted
an attempt to reconstruct historicality rather than to build holistic
visions. The turn finally led to the establishment of two patterns of
philosophical reflection over history, which can be referred to as
speculative and critical. According to W.H. Dray, 'the aim of the
speculative philosopher of history is to discover in past events an
overall pattern of meaning which lies beyond the ordinary purview of
historian. The aim of the critical philosopher is to make clear the
nature of historical inquiry, to elicit and examine its fundamental
assumptions, its organizing concepts, and its methods of research and
writing, with a view to locating it on the map of knowledge'.
In this context one can speak about a maximalist and minimalist
philosophy of history. The core of the first one is tantamount to
discovering a general and holistic pattern of history, with a
simultaneous assumption that the latter goes beyond any chronological
sequence of events and phenomena. Its foundation consists in defining
the sense and objective of the historical process. Minimalist
philosophy of history was based on critical considerations; hence it
was an attempt to question the cognitive importance of traditional
metaphysics. It was its accomplishment to accept that reflection over
history is a domain of practical reason and to facilitate the
grounding of a scientific approach to reality. Questioning all
absolutist tendencies in philosophy, it defined a theoretical and
scientific orientation of the philosophy of history and opened
prospects for further analytical reflection and the philosophy of
Popularizing critical philosophy of history did not, however, lead to
abandoning questions concerning the sense of history, it only changed
their context. According to M. Szulakiewicz, there appeared a
tendency to create various forms of metaphysical reflection, whose
multiplicity resulted from the essence of reality as such.
Transcendental philosophy pointed to the impossibility of
establishing an absolute sense, but it revealed multidimensionality
and heterogeneity of the world. The twentieth-century turn
towards metaphysics was an attempt to define the essence of
historicality (M. Heidegger, K. Jaspers), to point to its place in
social reality and culture (O. Spengler, A. Schweitzer, A. Toynbee,
P. Sorokin). It was also reflection over the ways of understanding
the world (E. Husserl, H.G. Gadamer).
This turn was not tantamount to rehabilitating the philosophy of
history as absolute knowledge about the world, but it constituted an
attempt to overcome the ahistorical approach to reality and opt for
realistic reflection, which deals with culture-creating activity of
people and themselves as active subjects of history. It opened
prospects for a new philosophy of history, which began to see history
as a universal platform of creative and spontaneous 'happening'
connected with free and conscious acting. History lost its
substantiality and immanent rationality in favor of multiplicity of
interpretations, which are supposed to introduce this rationality
into history. Humans became the foundation of history, humans who
overcome obstacles and limit the suffering which nature or they
inflict upon themselves.
Twentieth-century philosophy ceased being an exclusive domain of
professional historians. Already at the beginning of the century
there appeared visions of synthetic approaches to history, taking
into consideration social and cultural perspectives, created by
sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers. Awareness of the
crisis was strengthened by the prevalent sense of anxiety, relating
to the war experiences and economic turbulence, as well as the
collapse of Eurocentrism and the weakening belief in maintaining the
world order. According to E. Angehern, all this fostered propensities
for historical thinking and building philosophical-historical
visions. As H.D. Kittsteiner emphasizes, the philosophy of
history found its place above many particular theories, which agreed
among each other as to the facts but differed as to the whole of
Written between 1918 and 1922, Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West
was the volume which started a wide debate about the validity of
practicing the philosophy of history as a holistic vision of human
history. Inspired by Nietzsche's philosophy and Goethe's conception
of living nature, Spengler created a pessimistic picture of history,
in which he deployed a naturalist analogy of birth and death of
organic forms. History became a process of constant and cyclic
becoming and passing, and its sense constituted itself in a permanent
relationship of individual life and the life of the world.
Spengler's conception was largely a repetition of the theses of
Hegel's philosophy, inasmuch as the whole historical process was
subject to the objective contained in the very structure of history
and its dynamics left nothing which could be seen as ultimate and
Despite many inconsistencies and extreme subjectivism, Spengler's
conception played a vital role in rehabilitating universal historical
visions. Like Burckhardt identifying history with a biography of
culture, Spengler delineated a new subject of philosophical
reflection over history. Central problems of his theory consisted in
culture and civilization as places where sense constituted itself.
The same perspective was assumed by numerous critics of Spengler's
theory. The twelve-volume opus by A. Toynbee, The Study of History,
was an answer to the German philosopher's theory, which was
speculative and of an aprioric character. According to Toynbee,
Spengler -- presenting his conception which referred to the laws of
getting old and dying -- offered only a theological and fatalistic
metaphor incapable of being factually confirmed. Only what is
understandable and explicable in empirical categories may be the
subject of analysis here. It means that such a subject is limited to
a real grouping of humanity, which he calls civilization. Contra
Spengler, civilizations do not constitute isolated wholes, but may
engage in relationships among each other, which was seen by Toynbee
as an element leading to their development. He did not share
Spengler's pessimistic vision, resulting from an assumption that all
cultures undergo the same process of rise and degeneration. Such kind
of universalism was to result from a mistaken conviction that the
historical process was homogenous and its source lay in the illusions
of egocentrism, unchangeable East and linear progress.
A similar line of reasoning was taken by theoreticians who -- basing
on sociological and political analyses -- often recreate a holistic
picture of human history. The conceptions of P. Sorokin, Max and
Alfred Weber, M. Horkheimer or F. Fukuyama are an attempt to go
beyond the boundaries of their disciplines and create universal
conceptions of the historical development of societies, where social,
economic and political factors play the most important roles. They are
not historical conceptions sensu stricto, but still undertake the
issues of historical transformations of social structures from the
point of view of objectives and values essential for every human and
community. Their empirical foundation and references to the
conclusions drawn within exact sciences do not eliminate questions
about the sense and objective of history. What is more, they
constitute a salient basis for creating universal visions of history
which can be subject to more rigorous verification.
The work of P. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, is an attempt
to go into the heart of the socio-cultural reality which is
constituted by mutual relationships and ceaselessly interrelating
values. Culture, defined by Sorokin in very broad terms as a holistic
sum of all conscious and unconscious activity of people, presents a
unity, although, on the other hand, treated as a system, it
undergoes constant qualitative and quantitative changes. It behaves
like a living organism, which changes shape in line with the
Principle of Immanent Change and Principle of Limits. Describing
reality, Sorokin uses sociological methods, especially statistical
ones, as well as employing rich historical material. Diagnosing
reality, he yet goes beyond purely scientific research in the
direction of philosophical reflection. Having noticed the crisis of
modern culture, he demands the creation of a system which would be
governed by universal and timeless values as well as shaping a new
man who will become responsible for others and for himself. He
writes: 'The most urgent need of our time is the man who can control
himself and his lusts, who is compassionate to all his fellow men,
who can see and seek for the eternal values of culture and society,
and who deeply feels his unique responsibility in this universe'.
The philosophy of history is also transformed into a theory of man
and human existence. Such reconstructions of historicality became the
foundation of personalist reflection of E. Mounier and J. Maritain and
existential reflection of K. Jaspers and J.P. Sartre. According to K.
Jaspers, we do not know both the beginning and the ultimate end of
history, thus assuming that the all-encompassing principle of history
exists is unjustified. The essence of history lies, for him, in
understanding and reconciling matters important in human existence,
in the relation of what is singular and what is common. The
conception of the 'axial age' as an epoch in which spiritual values
common to all people were shaped was to be a source of unity of the
world's history. Jaspers rejected both the sequence of historical
stages and morphological similarity of the three world cultures. The
universal sense of history is not objectively given, but is revealed
only in human relationships. Initially independent cultures,
containing just rudiments of universal values, only in the axial age
constitute a common historical consciousness. Jaspers sees the sense
of history neither in a salvation plan nor in natural necessity, but
rather in a human being really existing in the world, who takes part
in the life of community, through which one discovers the sense of
one's own individual existence. The philosophy of history is
perceived in a similar way by A. Schweitzer and J. Maritain, who are
yet likely to categorize such reflection as the philosophy of morals,
focusing primarily on the principles of human responsibility for their
own existence and for the existence of the world.
Twentieth-century maximalist philosophy of history appears to be an
attempt at rehabilitating the universal approach to history, which
goes beyond apodictic aspirations of idealist metaphysics and
naturalist tendencies of scientism. It re-evaluates the hitherto
accepted object of philosophical reflection over history, noticing
the human being as an active subject and creator of history, as well
as paying more attention to the ubiquitous dynamics of reality. In
the twentieth-century reflection, the historical process is no longer
seen monolinearly as a common striving at realizing a particular
ideal. History is becoming a platform of multidirectional changes
dependent on strivings of individuals and societies. The
rehabilitation of cyclic and oscillating conceptions of time also
takes place. Accepting the pluralist vision of the world makes it
possible to reject Eurocentrism and treat history as a system of
mutual relationships among parallelly existing civilizations and
cultures. History ceases to be a complete theory of the whole, which
is governed by its inner logic, but becomes intelligible due to the
activity of people taking part in it and due to
sociological-historical transformations within social structures.
Contemporary philosophers of history are also careful when
delineating the ultimate objective of history, and they often make do
with pointing to a general tendency or direction of events and
expressing moderate optimism in the face of scientific and
technological rationality. According to A. Rogalski, unlike earlier
theoreticians of crisis many of them see some positive value of the
current situation, as the basis for shaping something new, perhaps
better. They perceive crisis as yet another form of experience,
through which new values may come into being or the already known
ones may get adapted to new social and cultural phenomena. Sometimes,
as in the case of A. Schweitzer and C. Dawson's conceptions,
rehabilitation of the idea of progress takes place.
On the basis of the reflections of the twentieth-century thinkers,
for whom it became essential to explain the phenomena of historical
reality and assign importance to the questions about the sense of
human existence, one may formulate three fundamental paradigms of
philosophical reflection over history.
The philosophy of history as a theory of culture and civilization.
Its subject consists in philosophical reflection over the specificity
of material and immaterial human culture as well as in focusing on
co-existence of great communities from the point of view of what is
common. O. Spengler, A. Toynbee, P. Bagby, N. Elias and S.
Huntington's central point of interest is embodied in the attempt to
show the elements of people's cultural identity through delineating
the objectively important issues, such as language, history,
religion, customs and subjective self-identification.
The philosophy of history as a social and political theory.
Rationalist reflection over the factors of social, economic and
political developments was decisive in the view of P. Sorokin, Max
and Alfred Weber, M. Horkheimer, J. Ortega y Gasset, F. Fukuyama, E.
Fromm or S. Eisenstadt and I. Wallerstein. According to them, every
basic form of social life becomes an objectivization of the idea of
rationalism. A deep social diagnosis, coupled with an attempt to go
beyond the phenomena of the surface of reality, leads to defining
socio-historical factors of the crisis of modernity. It is also
connected with an attempt to find reconstructive mechanisms helping
to modernize societies.
The philosophy of history as a theory of human and the philosophy of
human existence. Philosophers practicing reflection over history in
line with this paradigm assume an individualistic perspective. A.
Schweitzer, J. Maritain, E. Mounier or J.P. Sartre perceive history
through the prism of the specificity of human existence, and
transform the philosophy of history into anthropological philosophy
or moral philosophy. Their main postulate is coming back to human as
a singular being, situated above the phenomena in reality, governed
by sensitivity and a specific manner of perceiving the world.
According to M. Wichrowski, the conceptions of the twentieth-century
philosophers of history are closer to the conclusions drawn by
professional researchers, which increases the formal level of the
paradigms. Separation of exact sciences from philosophy,
undertaken by W. Windelband and H. Rickert, enabled one to see
differences between natural reality and the human world. History thus
acquired a feature of exceptionality and uniqueness; it became a
universal background of human activity. On this basis a Polish
historian of philosophy Cz. Bartnik differentiates active and passive
history. Passive history constitutes a human-independent being, which
appears to be an objective condition of happening, while active
history is defined through human free deeds. Being static, homogenous
throughout, almost unmovable, the first one becomes the subject of all
non-historical sciences. The second one, defined through
changeability, uniqueness and one-timeness, is identified by the
diachrony of time-space relationships. Both perspectives
characterize a philosophy-specific holistic perspective of internal
and external conditions of human existence, which constitute the
awareness of historicality.
In this context, ontological, epistemological and axiological
foundations which philosophy prepares might be helpful in explaining
the reasons and results of concrete events and processes which are
the subject of particular sciences. According to P. Winch, philosophy
is the reflection over the nature of human understanding of reality,
which is supposed to explain the essence of relationships among
humans in society. It is an accomplishment of philosophical
reflection over history that the view concerning human historicality
was promoted and important questions were asked, even if they are of
the unanswerable kind. If sciences also formulate such questions,
they come closer to thinking in philosophical terms.
The philosophy of history is sometimes categorized as a practical
science, because it may regulate people's behavior, providing them
with a holistic view of reality. In this sense, one may assume it to
be an essential completion of sciences referring to humanity, since
these sciences often ignore the uniqueness of the most important
values of human life. Its specific place in the structure of
sciences referring to humanity results from a unique position
occupied by philosophy itself, whose basic goal it is to criticize
assumptions commonly accepted as obvious and certain. It is its task
to try to discover the truth about the world, and this requires going
beyond individual and subjective experiences of people, as well as
stepping beyond a fragmentary vision of the world which is provided
by exact sciences. Philosophical reflection deals with reality as a
whole, still remembering what the essence of historicality is; and it
is the suspension between natural and social sciences, resulting from
a natural dichotomy of nature and culture and ceaseless attempts
to save it or to destroy it.
Twentieth-century philosophy of history which aims at universal
approaches to human history constitutes an important voice in the
debate about the present and future of the human world. Reconciling
its findings with social and natural sciences, it poses important
questions, pointing to the fact that every phenomenon has both the
historical and philosophical aspect. The end of philosophy of history
or the end of history often heralded may thus be treated as an
unjustified symptom of skepticism and pessimism, since the philosophy
of history is currently revived in the visions of philosophers,
sociologists, and anthropologists as a theory of culture, society and
humanity. One might then assume that the diagnosed end of history is
solely the end of a certain history, and the fall of the philosophy
of history is illusory, because there are many different ways to
practice reflection over history.
1. H.M. Baumgartner, 'The Present State of the Philosophy of
History,' in The Discovery of Historicty in German Idealism and
Historicism, ed. P. Koslovski (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, 2005),
2. F. Znaniecki, Nauki o kulturze. Narodziny i rozwoj , transl.
Jerzy Szacki (Warszawa: PWN, 1971), 117.
3. K. Mannheim, Ideologia i utopia , transl. Jozef Mizinski
(Lublin: Wydawnictwo Test, 1992), 81.
4. A. Schopenhauer, O wolnosci ludzkiej woli , transl. Adam
Stogbauer (Krakow: Wydawnictwo Zielona Sowa, 2005), 46.
5. J. Garewicz, Schopenhauer (Warszawa: Wiedza Powszechna, 1988), 228.
6. A. Rogalski, Literatura i cywilizacja. Eseje i studia (Warszawa:
PAX, 1956), 35.
7. A. Przyebski, Hermeneutyczny zwrot filozofii (Poznan: Wydawnictwo
Naukowe UAM, 2005), 88.
8. F. Nietzsche, Niewczesne rozwazania [1873-1876], transl. Leopold
Staff, (Krakow: Wydawnictwo Zielona Sowa, 2006), 63.
9. F. Nietzsche, Niewczesne rozwazania, 92.
10. E. Domanska, Historie niekonwencjonalne. Refleksja o przesz?osci
w nowej humanistyce (Poznan: Wydawnictwo Poznanskie, 2006), 80-81.
11. William H. Dray, Philosophy of History (Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1993), 1.
12. S. Swiezawski, Zagadnienie historii filozofii (Warszawa: PWN,
13. M. Szulakiewicz, Obecnosc filozofii transcendentalnej (Torun:
Wydawnictwo UMK, 2002), 122.
14. M. Horkheimer, Poczatki mieszczanskiej filozofii dziejow ,
transl. Halina Walentowicz (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Spacja, 1995), 114.
15. E. Angehrn, Filozofia dziejow , transl. Jozef Marzecki
(Kety: Marek Derewiecki, 2007), 157.
16. H.D. Kittsteiner, 'Philosophy of History After the Philosophy of
History: Toward a Cultural History with Historical-Philosophical
Background,' in The Discovery of Historicity, 281.
17. O. Spengler, Zmierzch Zachodu. Zarys morfologii historii
uniwersalnej , transl. Jozef Marzecki (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo
KR, 2001), 41.
18. A. Toynbee, Studium historii [1934-1954], abridgement of Volumes
I-X by D. C. Somervell, transl. Jozef Marzecki (Warszawa: PIW, 2000),
19. A. Toynbee, Studium historii, 49.
20. P. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics. A study of Change in
Major Systems of Art, Truth, Ethics, Law, and Social Relationship
(New Brunswick. London: Transaction Publishers, 2006), 2.
21. P. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, 628.
22. K. Jaspers, O zrodle i celu historii powszechnej , transl.
Jozef Marzecki (Kety: Marek Derewiecki, 2006), 238.
23. A. Rogalski, Dramat naszego czasu. Szkice o kulturze i
cywilizacji (Warszawa: PAX, 1969), 159.
24. M. Wichrowski, Spor o nature procesu historycznego (Od
Hebrajczykow do smierci Fryderyka Nietschego) (Warszawa: Semper,
25. Cz. Bartnik, Historia ludzka i Chrystus (Katowice: Ksiegarnia Sw.
Jacka, 1987), 9.
26. P. Winch, The Idea of Social Science and its Relation to
Philosophy (London: Routlege, 2003), 40.
27. H. Freigl, 'The Scientific Outlook: Naturalism and Humanism,' in
The Discovery of Historicity, 8.
28. G. Barraclough, 'Scientific Method and the Work of Historian,' in
Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, ed. E. Nagel, P. Suppes,
A. Tarski (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), 584.
(c) Piotr Wasyluk 2010
Dr Piotr Wasyluk
University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to email@example.com
The views expressed in this journal do not necessarily
reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
comments should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org