Archive for the ‘philosophy of history’ Category

The Greeks viewed time as cyclical

November 9, 2009

Platonism attributed a cyclic nature to the time process, and this idea was developed in the Stoic philosophy. Just as the seasons of the year rotate in a certain fixed order…so, they thought, did all events happen, history periodically repeating itself. Thus Aristotle remarks, ‘For indeed time itself seems to be a sort of circle.’

Raymond Abba, The Naure and Authority of the Bible, p.70 quoting Aristotle, Physics, 4.14

Which undercuts the uniqueness of the historical events such as Creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, Judgement etc. since they would be wiped of their meaning when the wheel of time reverts back to a new cycle.

It means history has no goal or purpose ultimately – it’s reminiscent of Nietzsche’s philosophy or Eastern philosophies based on karma. Nothing is ultimately fixed – the tvery hing that lends weight to all our decisions.

Which gets me to thinking: since humans at once crave meaning yet run from responsibility we are caught on the horns of a dilemma. It is only a worldview that validates responsibility that secures meaning.


But, Herr Professor, the facts are otherwise

November 9, 2009

Hegel was expounding on his philosophy of history with reference to a particular series of events when one of his students objected to Hegel’s view and replied, “But, Herr Professor, the facts are otherwise.”
“So much worse for the facts,” was Hegel’s answer.


the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience

October 21, 2009

…the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted…If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

If immediate experience cannot prove or disprove the miraculous, still less can history do so. Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence ‘according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry’. But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probable they are. For if they are impossible, then no amount of historical evidence will convince us. If they are possible but immensely improbable, then only mathematically demonstrative evidence will convince us: and since history never provides that degree of evidence for any event, history can never convince us that a miracle occurred. …The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence. This philosophical question must therefore come first.

C.S.Lewis, Miracles, Geoffrey Bles, 1959, pp.11-12

History consists of a series of swindles

September 8, 2009

History consists of a series of swindles, in which the masses are first lured into revolt by the promise of Utopia, and then, when they have done this job, enslaved over again by new masters.

George Orwell

The faith of the Enlightenment

August 28, 2009

The essential articles of the religion of the Enlightenment may be stated thus: (1) man is not natively depraved; (2) the end of life is life itself, the good life on earth instead of the beatific life after death; (3) man is capable, guided solely by the light of reason and experience, of perfecting the good life on earth; and (4) the first and essential condition of the good life on earth is the freeing of men’s minds from the bonds of ignorance and superstition, and of their bodies from the arbitrary oppression of the constituted social authorities. With this creed the “constant and universal principles of human nature,” which Hume tells us are to be discovered by a study of history, must be in accord, and “man in general” must be a creature who would conveniently illustrate these principles. What these “universal principles” were the Philosophers, therefore, understood before they went in search of them, and with “man in general” they were well acquainted, having created him in their own image. They knew instinctively that “man in general” is natively good, easily enlightened, disposed to follow reason and common sense; generous and humane and tolerant, more easily led by persuasion than compelled by force; above all a good citizen and a man of virtue, being well aware that, since the rights claimed by himself are only the natural and imprescriptible rights of all men, it is necessary for him voluntarily to assume the obligations and to submit to the restraints imposed by a just government for the commonweal.


Humanism – Its greatest hopes dashed by hard reality

August 28, 2009

H.G. Wells, writing in A Short History of the World (1937):

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state…form but the prelude to things that man has yet to do.

But in 1939, in The Fate of Man, the optimism has gone:

There is no reason whatever to believe that the order of nature has any greater bias in favor of man than it had in favor of the icthyosaur or the pterodactyl. In spite of all my disposition to a brave looking optimism, I perceive that now the universe is bored with him, in turning a hard face to him, and I see him being carried less and less intelligently and more and more rapidly, suffering as every ill-adapted creature must suffer in gross and detail, along the stream of fate to degradation, suffering and death…the spectacle of evil in the world during the past half-dozen years the wanton destruction of homes, the ruthless hounding of decent folk into exile, the bombings of open cities, the cold-blooded massacres and mutilations of children and defenceless gentle people, the rapes and filthy humiliations and, above all, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished has come near to breaking my spirit altogether.

By 1945, in Mind at the End of its Tether, he gives way to despair:

A series of events has forced upon the intelligent observer the realization that the human story has already come to an end and that Homo Sapiens, as he has been pleased to call himself, is in his present form played out.  The stars in their courses have turned against him and he has to give place to some other animal better adapted to face the fate that closes in more and more swiftly upon mankind.

History – Needs the interpretative key of faith

August 26, 2009

Men wiser and more learned than I have discovered in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalisations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognise in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen. This is not a doctrine of cynicism and despair.

H.A.L. Fisher in Williamson, HR, Enigmas of History, (Michael Joseph, 1957)

Yet Fisher then goes on to say:

The fact of progress is written plain and large on the page of history: but progress is not a law of nature. The ground gained by one generation may be lost by the next. The thoughts of men may flow into channels which lead to disaster and barbarism.

So he maintains faith in ‘progress’ despite the evidence.

History – in need of special revelation

August 26, 2009

God makes visible to men his will in events, an obscure text written in a mysterious language. Men make their translations of it forthwith; hasty translations, incorrect, full of faults, omissions, and misreadings. Very few minds comprehend the divine tongue. The most sagacious, the most calm, the most profound, decipher slowly, and, when they arrive with their text, the need has long gone by; there are already twenty translations in the public square. From each translation a party is born, and from each misreading a faction; and each party believes it has the only true text, and each faction believes that it possesses the light.

Victor Hugo, les Miserables, Wordsworth, 1994, pp.567-568

But the Scriptures give the key that unlocks the mystery of history.

Historicism and Marxism

August 26, 2009

We are left asking how we could ever know that Marxism itself represents the final truth and not a mere passing ideological by-product of a fleeting period of economic revolution.

Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics, 1955, p.74

governments have never learned anything from history

August 26, 2009

What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.

G. W. F. Hegel