Philosophy Philosophy of History
by
Daniel Little
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0043

Introduction

When philosophers have written about “history,” they have often had different and even incompatible goals in mind. One tradition of philosophers, generally from Continental Europe and originating in the 18th century, has wanted to contribute to answers to large questions about the nature of history as it presented itself over time as a compound of individuals, actions, nations, and civilizations: Does history have a direction? Is there a unity to history? Does history have meaning? Is there a plan to history? Do civilizations rise and fall? Is materialism or idealism the better framework for understanding the movement of history? This approach to the study of history is often referred to as “speculative” or “substantive.” A second tradition, related to the first, applies the methods and frameworks of hermeneutics to the understanding of history. Within this approach, the central task of historians is to provide intelligible explications of the actions chosen by historical actors. A third 20th-century tradition is “conceptual and critical history,” largely created by German historian Reinhart Koselleck. This philosophy of history focuses on the historical development of social and political concepts. A fourth tradition, largely Anglo-American and 20th-century in origin, rejects the goal of providing commentary on “history” at all, and focuses instead on historical knowledge and historical explanation. This analytic tradition focuses on epistemology of historical knowledge rather than the metaphysics or large meanings of historical reality.

Data Sources

The discipline of the philosophy of history has developed a number of specialized journals in which current debates and research findings are published. History and Theory, published at Wesleyan University, has had the greatest sustained impact over the past half-century. Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, focuses on the intersection of literature, history, and philosophy. History and Memory focuses on the ways in which memory, public and private, represents the past. The Journal of the Philosophy of History is a relatively recent journal that aims to create a venue for new appreciation of the centrality of history in many topics of philosophical concern. Rethinking History is aimed at historians with an interest in some of the methodological issues their discipline raises. Several articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are of interest to students of the philosophy of history, including Ramberg and Gjesdal 2010 and Little 2010.

Progress and Rationality

Does history have direction and meaning? Do civilizations have their distinctive courses of development and decline? Is there a substantive reality to history, over and above the actions and lives of individual human beings? Philosophers in the 18th and 19th centuries found these questions to be particularly important. The philosophies of the Enlightenment often rested on a distinctive philosophy of history grounded in the ideas of progress and rationality, and in the idea that it should be possible to arrive at a science of human affairs that would permit the explanation of history. These sets of questions and theories are referred to as being metaphysical or substantive. They are guided by the philosopher’s desire to discover fundamental truths about the course of history that go beyond the contingent series of events and actions that we recognize as empirical history. None of these schools was hospitable to strong empirical historical research of specific times and places.

European Sources before Hegel

Vico 2002 (originally published 1725) argued for the idea of a universal human nature that underlay all human history, whereas Herder 1968 (originally 1791) argued for a historicized understanding of human nature. Theories of progress expressed by the authors of Voltaire 1759 and Condorcet 1979 (originally 1795) articulated the Enlightenment approach based on universal human reason. Montesquieu 1989 (originally 1748) represented an Enlightenment effort to explain the evolution of major systems of government and law. The philosophy of history laid out in Kant 2006 (originally 1784) also endorses the idea of progress and rationality in human affairs. Iggers 1968 offers a careful reconstruction of these ideas about progress in history within German philosophy. Löwith 1949 provides a sympathetic exposition of the theological orientation to the philosophy of history.

  • Condorcet, Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat. Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1979.

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    Condorcet’s theory of history foregrounds the ideas of progress and justice. He believed that human beings are rational and capable of recognizing moral and scientific truths. These capacities permit humanity to progress toward a higher level of justice and prosperity. Condorcet was an early advocate for the equality of women. Originally published in 1795.

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    • Herder, Johann Gottfried. Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. Translated by Frank E. Manuel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

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      Herder offers a strikingly different view about human nature from Enlightenment universalism. He argues for the historical contextuality of human nature in this work, advocating the idea that human nature is itself a historical product and that human beings act differently in different periods of historical development. Originally published in 1791.

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      • Iggers, Georg G. The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1968.

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        Iggers provides a careful interpretation of German idealism and historicism from the perspective that this tradition contains strongly antiliberal presuppositions and that these intellectual commitments had bad consequences for Germany’s political development. His account leads up to a “crisis of historicism” in the late 19th century, laying the basis for authoritarianism in the 20th century.

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        • Kant, Immanuel. “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose.” In Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History. Edited by Pauline Kleingeld. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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          Kant brings together his confidence in the human capacity for universal rationality with a theory about the development of future human history. The natural development of European civilization is toward more comprehensive rationality and morality and a system of government that corresponds to these capacities for enlightenment. Future history is “cosmopolitan” because it is based on the recognition of universal requirements of reason and morality. Originally published in 1784.

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          • Löwith, Karl. Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

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            Löwith rehearses the ideas of progress and providence found within the Western tradition. He discusses Burckhardt, Marx, Hegel, Condorcet, Proudhon, and others, and concludes with a discussion of the biblical view of history.

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            • Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat. The Spirit of the Laws. Edited by A. M. Cohler, B. C. Miller, and H. Stone. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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              Montesquieu’s central concern was to provide an explanation of laws and political institutions. His central historical insight is the recognition of the variability and adaptability of human institutions. These insights, in turn, imply a philosophy of history: institutions change when purposive individuals have a strong interest in changing them. Originally published in 1748.

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              • Vico, Giambattista. The First New Science. Edited by Leon Pompa. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139163705Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Vico’s New Science offered an interpretation of history that turned on the idea of a universal human nature and a universal history. This underlying uniformity in human nature permits an explanation of historical processes leading to a fixed series of stages of development of civil society, law, commerce, and government. Originally published in 1725.

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                • Voltaire [François-Marie Arouet]. An Essay on Universal History, the Manners, and Spirit of Nations: From the Reign of Charlemagne to the Age of Louis XIV. London: J. Nourse, 1759.

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                  Voltaire understood human history as a progression toward greater rationality and perfection. But he was a realist as well, emphasizing human imperfection. He was an advocate of “universal history”—the idea that we can understand history as the result of universal traits of human action.

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                  Hegel

                  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s philosophy of history is perhaps the most fully developed philosophical theory of history that attempts to discover meaning or direction in history. As seen in Hegel 1967, Hegel 1975, and Hegel 1977, Hegel regards history as an intelligible process moving toward a specific condition—the realization of human freedom. Beiser 2005, Houlgate 1991, Hyppolite 1996, and O’Brien 1975 provide careful interpretations of Hegel’s philosophy of history.

                  • Beiser, Frederick C. Hegel. London: Routledge, 2005.

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                    Beiser’s volume provides a careful, analytical, and sympathetic treatment of the whole of Hegel’s philosophy. He seeks to refute the view that Hegel’s philosophy is nonsensical and contradictory. In a chapter on the philosophy of history, Beiser demonstrates the ways in which Hegel’s ideas about history have deep connections to other aspects of his philosophical system.

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                    • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Philosophy of Right. Edited and translated by Thomas M. Knox. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

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                      Hegel’s statement of his political philosophy, demonstrating the rationality that underlies the development of the modern European state. Originally published in 1821.

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                      • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139167567Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Hegel presented a series of lectures on the philosophy of history at the University of Berlin between 1822 and 1830, and Lectures on the Philosophy of World History is a translation of notes corresponding to this lecture series. Hegel reconstructs human history in terms of the fulfillment of human freedom through a series of forms of the state and public consciousness: the Greek polis, the Reformation, and the modern bureaucratic state. Originally published in 1822.

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                        • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Edited by J. N. Findlay. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.

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                          Hegel’s historical reconstruction of the development of human subjectivity and consciousness. A central theme is the master-slave narrative. Originally published in 1807.

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                          • Houlgate, Stephen. Freedom, Truth, and History: An Introduction to Hegel. London: Routledge, 1991.

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                            Houlgate explicates Hegel’s philosophy through his philosophy of history. He focuses on the concepts of freedom and “objective spirit,” and seeks to show that these ideas can be given an intelligible explication.

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                            • Hyppolite, Jean. Introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

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                              A short overview of Hegel’s philosophy of history. Hyppolite locates themes relevant to Hegel’s philosophy of history in the Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Right as well as his writings explicitly on the philosophy of history.

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                              • O’Brien, Dennis. Hegel on Reason and History: A Contemporary Interpretation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

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                                A close reading of Hegel’s philosophy of history. O’Brien relies on the version of Hegel’s lectures on the philosophy of history translated by H. B. Nisbet as Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. His interpretation is rigorous and intelligible and respectful of Hegel’s philosophical system.

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                                Patterns in History after Hegel

                                Following Hegel, the philosophy of history took several divergent paths in European thought, including Christian theodicy (Maritain 1957), historical materialism (Marx and Engels 1970), and a search for patterns of rise and decline in world history, expressed in Spengler and Atkinson 1999 and Toynbee 1954. The specific interpretations offered by these thinkers differed greatly, but they all shared the idea that it was possible to provide a single high-level interpretive principle that would serve to subsume all human history. This premise is strongly criticized in Popper 1957 in the case of Marx, but Popper’s criticisms are readily extended to these other lines of thought as well.

                                • Maritain, Jacques. On the Philosophy of History. New York: Scribner, 1957.

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                                  Maritain presents a philosophy of history grounded in Christian theology and teleology and a careful reading of the philosophical literature on this subject. He relates his view of history to the scientific approach (laws in history) and the interpretive approach (meaning in history), and aligns himself with the latter.

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                                  • Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology. 3d ed. New York: International Publishers, 1970.

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                                    In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels explore the ways in which human beings are grounded in material circumstances having to do with needs and power. They present a view of human nature that is historically conditioned by the social relations within which a generation of people lives. The manuscript presents one important component of Marx’s theory of historical materialism, but the key ideas of “forces and relations of production” are developed elsewhere. Originally published in 1845.

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                                    • Popper, Karl. The Poverty of Historicism. Boston: Beacon, 1957.

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                                      Popper offers strong criticisms of the idea that there are rhythms, patterns, or laws in history. Much of his argument focuses on Marxism and historical materialism, but the reasoning applies to a wide range of attempts to discover the governing principles of history.

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                                      • Spengler, Oswald, and Charles Francis Atkinson. The Decline of the West. 2 vols. New York: Knopf, 1999.

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                                        Spengler aims to understand world history as the large-scale rise and fall of civilizations. He identifies eight major civilizations in world history, each with its own rhythm of ascendancy and decline. The work captured German pessimism following World War I. Originally published in 1926.

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                                        • Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History. 12 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1954.

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                                          Toynbee’s history of the world is a meta-history of world civilizations. His aim is to uncover what he believes to be patterns of rise and decline in each civilization.

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                                          Hermeneutics

                                          The theory of hermeneutics provides an intellectual framework for analyzing and interpreting meaningful human expressions—poetry, actions, thoughts, and motives. Hermeneutic philosophers in the 19th and 20th centuries extended this approach to efforts to understand large historical events and processes in similar terms. Friedrich Schleiermacher (see Schleiermacher 1998) provided a theory of interpretation that depended heavily on the challenges of interpreting and translating linguistic expressions. Wilhelm Dilthey (Dilthey 1962, Dilthey 2002) was one of the early exponents of the hermeneutic approach to human affairs. Hermeneutic philosophy of history seeks to understand events, movements, and processes in terms of the meanings that they embody and the meaningful relations they bear to other historical events. This approach to history found expression in the 20th-century philosophical writings of such authors as Paul Ricoeur (Ricoeur 1984–1988, Ricoeur 2004), who applied theories of philosophical hermeneutics to history and memory. Gadamer 1975 represents a crucial text in contemporary German hermeneutics. Palmer 1969 provides an expert analysis of the hermeneutic tradition beginning with Schleiermacher. Although not himself falling within the Continental lineage, R. G. Collingwood’s philosophy of history (Collingwood and Knox 1946) bears a strong affinity to the general framework of hermeneutic philosophy of history. Following Croce and Ainslie 1921, he focuses on the question of the interpretation of meaningful action as the key element of historical understanding.

                                          • Collingwood, R. G., and T. M. Knox. The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1946.

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                                            Published posthumously, the book presents Collingwood’s central contributions. The study of history is the study of the mind. The goal of the historian is to uncover the reasons actors had for acting as they did. Historians are able to explain historical processes “from within” as a reconstruction of the thought processes of the agents who bring them about.

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                                            • Croce, Benedetto, and Douglas Ainslie. Theory and History of Historiography. London: G. C. Harrap, 1921.

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                                              Croce’s philosophy of history is idealist, in that he understands the course of history as an expression of human thought in action. He believed that historians and philosophers both gain insights into their own disciplines from interaction with the other, and they bring new insights to the other discipline as well.

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                                              • Dilthey, Wilhelm. Pattern and Meaning in History: Thoughts on History and Society. New York: Harper, 1962.

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                                                The human sciences are inherently distinct from the natural sciences because the former depend on the understanding of meaningful human actions, while the latter depend on causal explanation of physical events. Hermeneutics—the interpretation of meaningful texts—is suited to the interpretation of human action and history.

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                                                • Dilthey, Wilhelm. The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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                                                  The Formation of the Historical World takes the hermeneutic approach to understanding history a step further by exploring the idea of “objectification”—the specific ways in which persons establish their persona in the world through concrete actions and relations. Originally published in 1910.

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                                                  • Gadamer, Hans. Truth and Method. New York: Continuum, 1975.

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                                                    Truth and Method is a milestone in the development of 20th-century German philosophy. Gadamer’s philosophy lies within the hermeneutic tradition including Schleiermacher and Dilthey. The book challenges the ideas of fixed truth and objective beliefs about society and history.

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                                                    • Palmer, Richard E. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

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                                                      A major historical treatment of the theory of hermeneutics from its 19th-century German beginnings through the work of Heidegger and Gadamer. This is a key text for understanding hermeneutic philosophy.

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                                                      • Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984–1988.

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                                                        Ricoeur places the human experience of time at the center of this three-volume work. Narrative is key to our experience and representation of time. Past, present, and future are represented in two distinctly different ways: cosmological time (a linear chronology) and phenomenological time (our human experience of past, present, and future).

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                                                        • Ricoeur, Paul. Memory, History, Forgetting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

                                                          DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226713465.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          A phenomenological treatment of memory and forgetting. The Holocaust is the central theme of memory and forgetting in Ricoeur’s discussion. The book is a discursive essay rather than a careful conceptual analysis of key historical terms. The epilogue to the book relates memory and the past to the concept of forgiveness.

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                                                          • Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings. Edited and translated by Andrew Bowie. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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                                                            This volume includes Schleiermacher’s foundational texts on the hermeneutic method. Schleiermacher focuses on the two aspects of meaning associated with language (semantics) and thought (representation). The first has to do with linguistics, while the latter has to do with psychology. Originally published in 1838.

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                                                            Conceptual Philosophy of History

                                                            Post–World War II German historian Reinhart Koselleck defined a novel space within the field of the philosophy of history under the rubric of “conceptual and critical theory of history” (Koselleck 2002, Koselleck 2004). Koselleck offered three key tasks for the metahistorian or philosopher of history: to identify the concepts that are either possible or necessary in characterizing history; to locate those concepts within the context of the social and political discourses and conflicts of the time period; and to critically evaluate these various concepts for their usefulness in historical analysis. This approach fundamentally involves identifying and describing various levels of historical concepts. This, in turn, requires both conceptual and historical treatment: how the concepts are understood at a time, and how they have changed over time. History is the result of conceptualization of the past on the part of the people who tell it—professional historians, politicians, partisans, and ordinary citizens. Koselleck’s philosophy of history involves a methodology that focuses on the semantics of historical concepts and a detailed historical investigation of how those concepts have changed in meaning and use—what he refers to as “the sphere of a philosophical history of terminology, historical philology” (Koselleck 2004, p. 75). This body of work provides an alternative to both positivist and post-modernist approaches to the study of history.

                                                            • Bouton, Christophe. “The Critical Theory of History: Rethinking the Philosophy of History in the Light of Koselleck’s Work.” History and Theory 55.2 (2016): 163–184.

                                                              DOI: 10.1111/hith.10795Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              A current and detailed appreciation of Koselleck’s thought that places it into context with other currents in the philosophy of history. Bouton offers a careful explication of Koselleck’s use of the ideas of concepts and categories in historical thought. The article demonstrates a broad and deep expertise about the complexities of Koselleck’s philosophy.

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                                                              • Brunner, Otto, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck, eds. Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland. 8 vols. Stuttgart: Klett, 1972–1997.

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                                                                A magisterial expression of Koselleck’s theory of conceptual and critical history. The contributors exemplify the project of conceptual history: to identify the specific historically situated meanings of concepts like “state,” “legitimacy,” or “rights” as they have been used by participants and observers through a historical period. The book is an exercise in rigorous historical semantic investigation.

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                                                                • Koselleck, Reinhart. Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Parthogenesis of Modern Society. Oxford: Berg, 1988.

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                                                                  The published version of Koselleck’s doctoral thesis of 1954, supervised by Carl Schmitt. Koselleck probes the novel separation created by Enlightenment political theory between public and private spheres of moral judgment. Koselleck finds that this separation implicitly creates the space for totalitarian politics, in which the state has all authority and power and the individual none. The book illustrates a central thrust of Koselleck’s conceptual philosophy of history, in that Koselleck expends great philological effort at placing modern political concepts into their semantic and cultural contexts. Originally published in 1959.

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                                                                  • Koselleck, Reinhart. The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

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                                                                    A collection of eighteen essays that capture the central thrusts of Koselleck’s philosophy of history. Koselleck argues that historical time has features that are profoundly different from the temporality of events in the natural world. Historical events and periods cannot be understood without attention to the conflicts, semantic and material, that exist among individuals and collectives in the period. The concept of “modernity” can be understood as an expression of the discovery of the historicity of human affairs.

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                                                                    • Koselleck, Reinhart. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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                                                                      A collection of Koselleck’s essays on philosophy of history, organized around temporality and the historicity of social and political concepts. A good example of this approach is Koselleck’s account of the history of the German concept of “bund.” “A history of the meanings of the word Bund is not adequate as a history of the problems of federal structure ‘conceptualized’ in the course of Reich history. Semantic fields must be surveyed and the relation of Einung to Bund, of Bund to Bündnis, and of these terms to Union and Liga or to Allianz likewise investigated” (p. 88). Originally published in 1979.

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                                                                      • Olson, Niklas. History in the Plural: An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck. New York: Berghahn, 2012.

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                                                                        Olson provides a detailed and insightful overview of Koselleck’s chief ideas. He offers a biographical background on Koselleck’s development as an intellectual, and places Koselleck’s research on the history of political concepts into the tradition of historical social and political thought. Olson argues that Koselleck’s eventful biography and intellectual development culminated in an approach to understanding human history that makes it a genuinely novel contribution to the philosophy of history. There is no such thing as “total history.”

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                                                                        Analytical Philosophy

                                                                        The philosophy of history emerged as a topic of interest for analytical philosophers in the 1950s and 1960s, beginning with Walsh 1960 and Dray 1964, as well as Gardiner 1952 and Dray 1957 (both cited under the Covering-Law Debate) and Dray 1995 and Danto 1965 (both cited under Special Topics). This approach involves the application of the methods and tools of analytic philosophy to the special problems that arise in the pursuit of historical explanations and historical knowledge (Gardiner 1952, cited under the Covering-Law Debate). Here, the philosopher’s concern is with the characteristics of historical knowledge: how we know facts about the past, what constitutes a good historical explanation, whether explanations in history require general laws, and whether historical knowledge is underdetermined by available historical evidence. Analytic philosophers often attempted to understand historical research and knowledge along the lines of the natural sciences (Nagel 1961, cited under the Covering-Law Debate). Issues considered included such questions as the logical structure of narrative (Danto 1965, cited under Special Topics), historical necessity (Berlin 1955, cited under Special Topics), the role of intentionality in history (Dray 1995, cited under Special Topics), and the grounds of historical knowledge (Murphey 1994, cited under Special Topics). Much of the attention of analytical philosophers of history was taken up in the 1950s and 1960s by the “covering-law” debate, the idea that historical explanations should take the form of nomological-deductive arguments. The philosopher of science Carl Hempel opened this debate in his essay, “The Function of General Laws in History” (Hempel 1942, cited under the Covering-Law Debate). Nagel 1961 (cited under the Covering-Law Debate) supports Hempel’s position, as do White 1969 and Gardiner 1952 (both cited under the Covering-Law Debate) with useful qualifications. Dray 1957 (cited under the Covering-Law Debate) rejects the covering-law view, based on the author’s view of the significance of action in history. Scriven 1962 and Donagan 1966 (both cited under the Covering-Law Debate) offer compelling criticisms of the theory based on a critique of logical positivism and attention to the practices of working historians.

                                                                        • Dray, William H. Philosophy of History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1964.

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                                                                          Dray’s Philosophy of History is a textbook introduction to the subject. This book helped to define the field for a generation of analytic philosophers.

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                                                                          • Gallie, W. B. Philosophy and the Historical Understanding. New York: Schocken, 1964.

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                                                                            An account of historical understanding based on the notion of evidence-based narrative. He accepts that there are sometimes law-based explanations in history, but he denies that this is the primary form of historical explanation.

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                                                                            • Gorman, Jonathan. Understanding History: An Introduction to Analytical Philosophy of History. Philosophica 42. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 1992.

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                                                                              A “second-wave” analytic philosophy of history that attempts to bring innovations in philosophy into dialogue with problems in the philosophy of history. Gorman believes the fact that historians disagree in their interpretation of great historical events demonstrates that presuppositions play an ineliminable role in historical understanding.

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                                                                              • Walsh, William H. Philosophy of History: An Introduction. Rev. ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1960.

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                                                                                An excellent synthetic approach to the topic, including both “critical” and “speculative” philosophy of history. Walsh’s goal is to propose a framework within which the main questions about history can be addressed, including both major traditions. The book is one of the most valuable of its generation on this topic. Originally published in 1951.

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                                                                                Special Topics

                                                                                The philosophy of history has often intermingled issues that have to do with knowledge of the past with issues that have to do with the nature of the past. Analytic philosophers illustrate this possibility as well. Berlin 1955 takes up the idea of historical inevitability or determinacy, while Murphey 1994 treats the issues of truth and reference in interpreting historical claims. Danto 1965 and Dray 1995 turn their attention to the nature of narrative, with Dray holding that historical explanation depends on reconstituting the states of mind of historical actors and Danto arguing that narrative claims make substantive presuppositions about the nature of historical events.

                                                                                • Berlin, Isaiah. Historical Inevitability. Auguste Comte Memorial Trust Lecture 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1955.

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                                                                                  The idea of historical inevitability is that large forces push history to unavoidable outcomes, irrespective of the desires or actions of individuals. The ideas of freedom of the will and historical contingency are related but distinct; but both share the feature that we cannot deny them without doing great harm to many of our ordinary concepts and locutions about ordinary action and responsibility.

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                                                                                  • Danto, Arthur Coleman. Analytical Philosophy of History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

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                                                                                    Danto’s Analytical Philosophy of History was a pathbreaking work when it appeared in 1965. He offers a Kantian interpretation of narrative sentences about the past. He also takes his account to demonstrate the impossibility of substantive philosophy of history: the possibility of knowing where history is going, or historical foreknowledge.

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                                                                                    • Dray, William H. History as Re-enactment: R. G. Collingwood’s Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

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                                                                                      Dray returns to Collingwood’s idea of “re-enactment”—the idea that the historian replicates the intentional states of the historical actors in his or her effort to explain a historical outcome and offers detailed and critical discussion of the idea.

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                                                                                      • Murphey, Murray G. Philosophical Foundations of Historical Knowledge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

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                                                                                        An attempt to reformulate a realist understanding of historical knowledge from an analytical philosophy point of view. Murray makes use of the contemporary philosophy of science, cognitive psychology, and philosophical theory of action to arrive at a more defensible analytical interpretation of the enterprise of historical research and knowledge.

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                                                                                        The Covering-Law Debate

                                                                                        The topic that consumed the greatest amount of effort within analytical philosophy of history was the status of covering-law explanations in historical research. Hempel 1942 argues that all scientific explanations ultimately depend on the availability of general laws governing the explanandum, and Nagel 1961 and White 1969 generally support the position. Donagan 1966, Dray 1957, Gardiner 1952, and Scriven 1962 offer a range of arguments against the suitability of this model to historical explanation on pragmatic and ontological grounds.

                                                                                        • Donagan, Alan. “The Popper-Hempel Theory Reconsidered.” In Philosophical Analysis and History. Edited by William H. Dray, 127–159. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

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                                                                                          A careful logical reconstruction and critique of the covering-law thesis, based on several observations: historians rarely make reference to general laws; the regularities cited are not universal laws; explaining the rationality of actions is not regularity-based; and history should not be forced into the mold of the natural sciences.

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                                                                                          • Dray, William H. Laws and Explanation in History. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

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                                                                                            One of the earliest rebuttals to the covering-law theory of historical explanation. Dray’s approach is distinctly analytical, and he flatly denies the central premises of covering-law theory. He provides an extensive analysis of the logic and role of causal explanation in history. He also picks up on Collingwood’s central ideas about actions and events.

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                                                                                            • Gardiner, Patrick L. The Nature of Historical Explanation. London: Oxford University Press, 1952.

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                                                                                              Gardiner carefully considers arguments in favor of and against the covering-law model. He focuses on the logic and pragmatics of historical explanation. He broadly endorses the covering-law model of explanation and attempts to arrive at a more plausible version of the theory than those provided by Popper and Hempel.

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                                                                                              • Hempel, Carl. “The Function of General Laws in History.” Journal of Philosophy 39 (1942): 35–48.

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                                                                                                This is the article that set off the covering-law debate. Hempel argues that scientific explanations always involve subsumption of the explanans under one or more law-like regularities, and he asserts that historical explanations of events need to conform to the same model.

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                                                                                                • Nagel, Ernest. The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1961.

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                                                                                                  Nagel provides a canonical statement of empiricist philosophy of science in The Structure of Science, including especially a description of the hypothetico-deductive method of theory justification and evaluation and the deductive-nomological method of scientific explanation.

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                                                                                                  • Scriven, Michael. “Explanations, Predictions, and Laws.” In Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Vol. 3, Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time. Edited by Herbert Feigl and Grover Maxwell. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962.

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                                                                                                    Scriven rebuts Hempel’s covering-law thesis on the grounds that explanations are practical and context-bound rather than abstract logical arguments. The adequacy of an explanation is defined in terms of our pragmatic needs in demanding the explanation, not by a set of general logical criteria.

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                                                                                                    • White, Morton Gabriel. Foundations of Historical Knowledge. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.

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                                                                                                      Morton White endorses a moderate version of the covering-law model (“existential regularism”). The book is more attentive than most of his generation to the actual practices and concerns of historians. White provides an extensive account of the idea of a historical narrative and a causal explanation.

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                                                                                                      Narratives and Postmodernism

                                                                                                      New questions have emerged since World War II within the discourse of the philosophy of history by philosophers, both analytical and Continental. These new areas were stimulated, first, by the atrocities of the Holocaust and the effort to make sense of this horrendous rip in the fabric of modern civilization (see Friedlander 1992). How are we to make sense of the Holocaust? How should we remember it? How do these historical traumas disrupt the Enlightenment assumption of progress and rationality? Philosophers like Leon Pompa have focused on human nature as a component of historical change, as in Pompa 1990. A second source of new thinking about history by contemporary philosophers is the linguistic and semantic turn that many of the human sciences took in the 1970s and 1980s. A cohort of writers in the 1980s and 1990s undertook to approach history from the point of view of narrative and meaning, including especially Hayden White (White 1973), Louis Mink’s writings of the same period (Mink 1987), and recent writings by F. R. Ankersmit, such as Ankersmit 1983. A third influence in this field is phenomenology, with philosophers such as David Carr attempting to understand history using the philosophical tools of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty (see Carr 1986). In some ways, this was a return to the hermeneutic approach to human affairs of the 19th century, but it was also original in that it brought new thinking from the philosophy of language into the debate. This “new” philosophy of history (Ankersmit and Kellner 1995) is distinguished from analytic philosophy of history in several important respects. It emphasizes historical narrative rather than historical causation. It is intellectually closer to the hermeneutic tradition than to the positivism that underlay the analytic philosophy of history of the 1960s. It is “postmodern” in that it highlights features of subjectivity and multiple interpretation over those of objectivity, truth, and correspondence to the facts.

                                                                                                      • Ankersmit, F. R. Narrative Logic: A Semantic Analysis of the Historian’s Language. Martinus Nijhoff Philosophy Library 7. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983.

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                                                                                                        The philosophy of history expressed throughout Ankersmit’s works might be described as “postmodern narrativism.” Historical accounts are narratives with literary qualities that can be fruitfully studied. We should not look for strict objectivity or standards of truth in historical accounts. Historical accounts are not true or false. And historical reasoning does not take the shape of deductive logical arguments.

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                                                                                                        • Ankersmit, F. R., and Hans Kellner, eds. A New Philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                          This is a collection of substantive and innovative recent examples of scholarship within this perspective, including a notable contribution by Arthur Danto. It is organized into tropes of style, voices, arguments, and images.

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                                                                                                          • Berkhofer, Robert F. Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                            Robert Berkhofer offers a description and defense of postmodern approaches to historiography.

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                                                                                                            • Carr, David. Time, Narrative, and History: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

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                                                                                                              David Carr offers an approach to the philosophy of history that proceeds through phenomenology and the writings of Husserl. He supports the narrativist approach to historiography, combining his own phenomenological concerns with the postmodern assumptions of the narrativist approach.

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                                                                                                              • Friedlander, Saul, ed. Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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                                                                                                                The volume consists of papers addressing the topic of the Shoah (Holocaust) as historical representation. Contributions illustrate a wide range of interpretive principles that can be brought to bear on the Shoah—none of which is wholly satisfactory.

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                                                                                                                • Mink, Louis O. Historical Understanding. Edited by Brian Fay, Eugene O. Golob, and Richard T. Vann. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987.

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                                                                                                                  This book is a collection of Louis Mink’s writings on the philosophy of history. Mink was one of the first analytic philosophers to decisively reject the idea of history as a scientific enterprise. In “The Autonomy of Historical Understanding,” he argues for the “autonomy” of historical knowledge and explanation—that the modes of explanation employed by historians need not resemble those of the natural sciences. Narratives are not hypothetico-deductive arguments.

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                                                                                                                  • Pompa, Leon. Human Nature and Historical Knowledge: Hume, Hegel, and Vico. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511597930Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Pompa argues that historical explanation requires an understanding of human nature, and that human nature is not fixed and universal. Our understanding of ourselves in the present is, in part, a product of how we understand our history. The book reviews the theories of human nature and history provided by Hume, Hegel, and Vico.

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                                                                                                                    • White, Hayden V. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

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                                                                                                                      Hayden White emphasizes imagination and narrative rather than deduction and explanation. White changes the focus of the philosophy of history from “knowledge” to “text.” His key concepts are irony and its opposites. He proceeds through studies of Hegel, Michelet, Ranke, Tocqueville, Burckhart, Marx, Nietzsche, and Croce.

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                                                                                                                      New Approaches

                                                                                                                      As this review suggests, many questions that philosophers can usefully pose to the discipline and facts of history remain unanswered. For this reason, it is timely to consider some new approaches to the philosophy of history. The decade since 2000 has seen several contributions that are difficult to classify according to the distinctions provided in this article. They are analytic but not reductionist (Hacking 2002); they pay attention to narrative but nonetheless attribute rational warrant to historical accounts (Sahlins 2004); they confront difficult episodes in human history (LaCapra 1998); and they are respectful toward the actual practices of gifted historians, rather than assuming that the philosophy of history can proceed as a separate philosophical discourse (Sewell 2005, Little 2010). Significantly, the titles listed here come from philosophers, a literary critic, an anthropologist, and a historian. Perhaps this is a clue to how the field might most productively move forward: by incorporating several philosophical perspectives, by raising new questions, and by reaching across the human sciences as well as philosophy to find some innovative new answers

                                                                                                                      • Hacking, Ian. Historical Ontology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                                        Hacking offers philosophical analysis of a number of issues about history and historical knowledge that have not been part of the discourse of the philosophy of history: How does “classification” of people for statistical purposes change the social reality in which they live? Are social phenomena created by our conceptualizations of them? What is “historicism” in modern intellectual life?

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                                                                                                                        • LaCapra, Dominick. History and Memory after Auschwitz. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                          LaCapra raises the question of the relationship between collective memory of traumatic events (the Holocaust, French colonialism in Algeria) and academic history. He draws on Habermas and Freud, with an intellectual and political inclination toward the former, as he attempts to work through the role that popular memory plays in modern and postmodern society.

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                                                                                                                          • Little, Daniel. New Contributions to the Philosophy of History. Methodos 6. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2010.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-9410-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            A consideration of some problems of method and ontology that are of concern to contemporary historians. It offers discussions of the subject matter of history, the nature of the conceptual schemes used to characterize historical processes, the role of causal mechanisms in historical explanation, and the ways historians think about mentalities and identities.

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                                                                                                                            • Sahlins, Marshall David. Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                              Sahlins confronts important questions about the ways in which we seek to understand history through an intellectual dialogue with Thucydides. How should we conceive of human nature and the actor? He attributes a theory of universal human nature to Thucydides, and he argues for a culturally and historically formed actor instead.

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                                                                                                                              • Sewell, William Hamilton. Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226749198.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                An insightful book on historical thinking, by an innovative historian. Sewell’s goal is to shed new light on the concepts, ontological assumptions, and theories through which thinkers attempt to understand the human past in a rigorous way. A recurring topic in the book is the important category of the historical event.

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