Re:what is historicism?
The historicist position by Hegel suggests that any human society and all human activities such as science, art, or philosophy, are defined by their history, so that their essence can be sought only through understanding that. The history of any such human endeavor, moreover, not only builds upon but also reacts against what has gone before; this is the source of Hegel's famous dialectic teaching usually summed up by the slogan "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis". (Hegel did not use these terms, although Fichte did.) Hegel's famous aphorism, "Philosophy is the history of philosophy," describes it bluntly.
Hegel's position is perhaps best illuminated when contrasted against the atomistic and reductionist view of human societies and social activities self-defining on an ad hoc basis through the sum of dozens of interactions. Yet another contrasting model is the persistent metaphor of a social contract. Hegel sees the relationship between individuals and societies as organic, not atomic: even their social discourse is mediated by language, and language is rooted in etymology and unique character. It thus preserves the culture of the past in thousands of half-forgotten frozen metaphors. To understand why a person is the way he is, you must put that person in a society: and to understand that society, you must understand its history, and the forces that shaped it. The Zeitgeist, the "Spirit of the Age," is the concrete embodiment of the most important factors that are acting in human history at any given time. This contrasts with teleological theories of activity, which suppose that the end is the determining factor of activity, as well as those who believe in a tabula rasa, or blank slate, view, where individuals are defined by their interactions.
These ideas can be taken in several directions. The Right Hegelians, working from Hegel's opinions about the organicism and historically determined nature of human societies, took Hegel's historicism as a justification of the unique destiny of national groups and the importance of stability and institutions. Hegel's conception of human societies as entities greater than the individuals who constitute them influenced nineteenth century romantic nationalism and its twentieth century excesses. The Young Hegelians, by contrast, took Hegel's thoughts on societies shaped by the forces of social conflict for a doctrine of progress, and attempted to chart a course that would manipulate these forces to lead to various improved outcomes. Karl Marx's doctrine of "historical inevitabilities" and historical materialism is one of the more influential reactions to this side of Hegel's thought. Significantly, Karl Marx's theory of alienation argues among other things that capitalism disrupts the rooted nature of traditional relationships between workers and their work.
Hegelian historicism is related to his ideas on the means by which human societies progress, specifically the dialectic and his conception of logic as reflecting the inner essential nature of reality. Hegel attributes the change to the "modern" need to interact with the world, whereas ancient philosophers were self-contained, and medieval philosophers were monks. In his History of Philosophy Hegel writes:
In modern times things are very different; now we no longer see philosophic individuals who constitute a class by themselves. With the present day all difference has disappeared; philosophers are not monks, for we find them generally in connection with the world, participating with others in some common work or calling. They live, not independently, but in the relation of citizens, or they occupy public offices and take part in the life of the state. Certainly they may be private persons, but if so, their position as such does not in any way isolate them from their other relationship. They are involved in present conditions, in the world and its work and progress. Thus their philosophy is only by the way, a sort of luxury and superfluity. This difference is really to be found in the manner in which outward conditions have taken shape after the building up of the inward world of religion. In modern times, namely, on account of the reconciliation of the worldly principle with itself, the external world is at rest, is brought into order — worldly relationships, conditions, modes of life, have become constituted and organized in a manner which is conformable to nature and rational. We see a universal, comprehensible connection, and with that individuality likewise attains another character and nature, for it is no longer the plastic individuality of the ancients. This connection is of such power that every individuality is under its dominion, and yet at the same time can construct for itself an inward world.
This view that entanglement in society creates an indissoluble bond with expression, would become an influential question in philosophy, namely, the requirements for individuality. It would be taken up by Nietzsche, John Dewey and Michel Foucault directly, as well as in the work of numerous artists and authors. There have been various responses to Hegel's challenge. The Romantic period focused on the ability of individual genius to transcend time and place, and use the materials from their heritage to fashion works which were beyond determination. The modern would advance versions of John Locke's infinite malleability of the human animal. Post-structuralism would argue that since history is not present, but only the image of history, that while an individual era or power structure might focus on a particular history, that the contradictions within the story would hinder the very purposes that the history was constructed to advance.
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