Saturday, September 18, 2010

Philosophy Of History For The Time Being

This is the first of a series of essays and footnotes around the traps of history and philosophy of history. They try to address the questions of philosophy of history, popular or otherwise, but not head on. So they aren't about the History Wars, or whether history is fiction, or about whether 'young people' lack historical consciousness. Instead they are about neglected or misunderstood notions that frame historical consciousness.
I think that important concepts like act, event, fact, truth, narrative, writing, actual footage, media and selection are often used in thinking about history but that they get seldom get the attention they need. Except maybe for cinephiles or media theorists, I doubt whether actual footage is even much thought of as an important concept for the philosophy of history. If only because of the pre-eminent role of media in driving the history of history, I doubt whether there is a more important concept. Because they are all such everyday concepts, they might scarcely seem worthy of philosophy. They look banal not profound. As is the case with many of philosophy’s objects most people think they just understand these things already anyway; they are a birthright and they become the unquestioned building blocks of theories about history rather than being treated as the objects of inquiry. If they have been scrutinised, critique has done its work on them, and now they come with a pretext for disregarding or discarding them. Sometimes I think they are just misunderstood, sometimes misused or abused. When people start to get philosophical about history the terms often seem to be used, unconsciously or in some cases even deliberately, as innocent looking props diverting our attention from theoretical trickery or received doctrine. Even though most of the terms are well known to philosophical reflection, far too much of the serious thought that philosophy has given to them is ignored when philosophising about history.
I have written these essays because I could not find philosophy of history or theories of history that reflected on these concepts to my satisfaction. I’ve written about what I would have liked to read about. I now hope I find a reader who also wants to read about what I wanted to read about.
Essay 1. Philosophy of History For The Time Being

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