Philosophy of History
Does history have a direction, a purpose, or an end goal? Can we deduce general historical patterns from studying the past? Is it naïve to hope and work for a better future? From the Enlightenment to the twenty-first century, liberal, Marxist, positivist, and post-structuralist thinkers have offered radically different responses to these fundamental questions related to the philosophy of history. This course will survey these attempts to grapple with the meaning and nature of history and highlight the ways in which different modes of narrating the past undergird contemporary political and philosophical projects.
Beginning with foundational works by Kant, Schiller, and Hegel, this course will explore the impulse to account for historical time outside of explicitly religious frameworks alongside other Enlightenment projects that placed humans at the center of their analysis. We will then examine seminal critiques of these early efforts, from Marx’s The German Ideology to Nietzsche’s “The Uses and Abuses of History.” Finally, we will consider twentieth-century critiques of the idea of historical progress, from Walter Benjamin’s “angel of history” to Michel Foucault’s disciplinary society. We will ask: are we progressing, and what kind of question is this? What is at stake by thinking of history as a science versus an act of narration? How do ecological and geographic forces impact our ability to place humans at the center of historical narratives? And how do philosophies of history pervade contemporary discussions of everything from politics to science to culture and beyond?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 08 — June 29, 2022