International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 154 7th July 2010


I. 'Call for Manuscripts and Reviewers: ISFP Publishing' by Geoffrey Klempner

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 https:---, 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'.

Geoffrey Klempner



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 progress.

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 Dilemmas'.

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 ship shape.

Here is the current list which you will find on the ISFP Publishing web site:

1. Nick Acocella -- The Divine Inspiration of Porn and the Beginning of Sexual Metaphysics

2. [Removed]

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 makers

For more details, including short descriptions, reviews and authors bios, go to the ISFP Publishing site https:---. 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




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 written communication.

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'?

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:---




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 existence.

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[1]. 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[2].

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[3].

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 culture-centric approach.

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'[4], 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[5]. 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[6]. 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 influential.

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[7]. 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[8]. 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[9]. 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[10]. 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'[11].

In this context one can speak about a maximalist and minimalist philosophy of history[12]. 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 language.

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[13]. 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[14].

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[15]. 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 reality[16].

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[17]. 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 constant.

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[18]. 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[19].

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[20], 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'[21].

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[22]. 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[23]. 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[24]. 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[25]. 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[26]. 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[27]. 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[28] 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.


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2. F. Znaniecki, Nauki o kulturze. Narodziny i rozwoj [1952], transl. Jerzy Szacki (Warszawa: PWN, 1971), 117.

3. K. Mannheim, Ideologia i utopia [1929], transl. Jozef Mizinski (Lublin: Wydawnictwo Test, 1992), 81.

4. A. Schopenhauer, O wolnosci ludzkiej woli [1839], 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, 1966), 457.

13. M. Szulakiewicz, Obecnosc filozofii transcendentalnej (Torun: Wydawnictwo UMK, 2002), 122.

14. M. Horkheimer, Poczatki mieszczanskiej filozofii dziejow [1930], transl. Halina Walentowicz (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Spacja, 1995), 114.

15. E. Angehrn, Filozofia dziejow [1991], 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 [1918], 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), 226.

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 [1949], 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, 1995), 95.

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 Instytut Filozofii University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn http:---


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