João Ohara’s new synthesis of the philosophy of history

What is the subject matter of the philosophy of history? This is an extremely difficult question to answer given the wide range of topics, methods, and philosophical perspectives that have been included under the umbrella since 1750. It is therefore a welcome development to read João Ohara's very interesting and illuminating discussion of this topic …

Tolstoy’s philosophy of history

Isaiah Berlin's essay The Hedgehog and the Fox is a particularly interesting combination of philosophical analysis and literary criticism. Berlin is a brilliant interpreter of nineteenth-century Russian thought, and Tolstoy's War and Peace is one of the most important novels of that period. In "The Hedgehog and the Fox" Berlin provides a close study of the philosophy of history …

Socrates the hoplite

An earlier post considered the Melian massacre and the Athenian conduct of war during the Peloponnesian War (link). Since we know that Socrates served as an armored infantry soldier during that war (a hoplite), it is reasonable to ask whether Socrates would have carried out atrocious orders involving the execution of prisoners, enslavement of women …

Issues of ethics in philosophy of history

Most writings in the philosophy of history have focused on issues of epistemology, method, and explanation. But our history as human beings is thoroughly invested with moral significance, and the philosophy of history needs to reflect on the moral issues raised by historical experience. Historians themselves have moral responsibilities; but perhaps more compellingly, all of …

An allegory for the philosophy of history

What is the role of history and narrative for human beings and peoples? What do we gain by learning of "our" past and the often horrendous crimes that we human beings have committed? Consider this parable. *        *        * Imagine that you are a different kind of human being. You are …

Marc Bloch’s phenomenology

Marc Bloch's Historian's Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It is challenging to read, in part because it is not exactly what it seems to be. The English title suggests it is a handbook of sorts on the art and practice of historical research. But …

Marc Bloch’s philosophy of history

Marc Bloch wrote The Historian's Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It. after the defeat of France in 1940. The title suggests that the book is a "how-to" manual for doing historical research, authored by one of the great historians of the twentieth century. But …

Explaining large historical change

Great events happen; people live through them; and both ordinary citizens and historians attempt to make sense of them. Examples of the kinds of events I have in mind include the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR; the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s; the violent suppression of the Democracy …

Is history probabilistic?

Many of our intuitions about causality are driven by a background assumption of determinism: one cause, one effect, always. But it is evident in many realms -- including especially the social world -- that causation is probabilistic. A cause makes its effects more likely than they would be in the absence of the cause. Exposure …

Contingency and explanation

    Social change and historical events are highly contingent processes, in a specific sense: they are the result of multiple causal influences that "could have been otherwise" and that have conjoined at a particular point in time in bringing about an event of interest. Contrast this situation with what we are looking for when …

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