Philosophy of History

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The term philosophy of history refers to the theoretical aspect of history, in two senses. It is customary to distinguish critical philosophy of history from speculative philosophy of history. Critical philosophy of history is the “theory” aspect of the discipline of academic history, and deals with questions such as the nature of historical evidence, the degree to which objectivity is possible, etc. Speculative philosophy of history is an area of philosophy concerning the eventual significance, if any, of human history.[1]Furthermore, it speculates as to a possible teleological end to its development—that is, it asks if there is a design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in the processes of human history. Part of Marxism, for example, is speculative philosophy of history. Another example is “historiosophy”, the term coined by Gershom Scholem to describe his understanding of history and metaphysics.[2] Though there is some overlap between the two aspects, they can usually be distinguished; modern professional historians tend to be skeptical about speculative philosophy of history.

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Sometimes critical philosophy of history is included under historiography. Philosophy of history should not be confused with the history of philosophy, which is the study of the development of philosophical ideas in their historical context.[3]

Speculative philosophy of history asks at least three basic questions:

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  • What is the proper unit for the study of the human past — the individual subject? The familypolis (“city”) or sovereign territory? The civilization or culture? Or the whole of the human species?
  • Are there any broad patterns that we can discern through the study of the human past? Are there, for example, patterns of progress? Or cycles? Is history deterministic? Or are there no patterns or cycles, and is human history regulated by irregularity? Related to this is the study of individual agency and its impact in history, functioning within, or opposed to, larger trends and patterns.
  • If history can indeed be said to progress or cycle, what is its ultimate direction or pattern? What (if any) is the driving force of the progress or of the cycles?
  • What does it mean to know, explain and write history?
  • From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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