BLTC Press Titles


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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


History of the philosophy of history

by Robert Flint

Excerpt:

During the past century and a half a very considerable amount of thought has been applied to ascertain the course, significance, and conditions of the development of human society. There is room for great difference of opinion as to how far such thought has been wisely or successfully expended, but there can be no reasonable doubt that the object sought to be attained by it is a legitimate and important one. The history of man as obviously demands and deserves scientific study and elucidation as the history of nature. Nothing in the world is intelligible apart from its history, and man must be of all things the least so. because he is of all things the most

1

complex, variable, and richly endowed. The history of man is clearly a phenomenon which not only deserves to be accurately described in its external form and features, but which should be viewed in its relations to coexistent and contiguous phenomena, which should be analysed into its elements, and which should have the operation of its various factors and the laws, stages, and direction of its movement investigated. In equivalent terms, it is a phenomenon which should be philosophically and scientifically treated. For a lengthened period attempts thus to deal with it have been made in uninterrupted and rapid succession. Some of them have attracted great attention and exerted wide influence. They have of late become increasingly numerous and have gained in interest and worth. They are closely connected and manifoldly related. Hence they are now themselves proper subjects and materials for a history. They are fragments, rather than stages, of a process which is strictly historical even while essentially philosophical — the process of man's reflection on his own history. To trace this process must be similarly serviceable to the student of history as giving an account of what has been already attempted and accomplished in other disciplines —philosophy or theology, ethics or aesthetics, mathematics, mechanics, or biology — is to those who at present cultivate them. Whenever any department of knowledge or process of thought has been continuously evolved for some length of time, an historical survey of it cannot fail to be of use. It must help us to see where and why there has been failure or success in the past, and suggest rules and cautions for work in the future. In the words of Mr. John Morley, "a survey of this kind shows us in a clear and definite manner the various lines of road along which thinkers have travelled, and the point to which the subject has been brought in our own time. We are able to contrast methods and to compare their fruits. People always understand their own speculative position the better, the more clearly they are acquainted with the other positions which have been taken in the same matter." 1

The process to be studied is one of thought and specula

1 Fortnightly Review, Sept. 1, 1874 —Art. "Mr. Flint's 'Philosophy of History.'"

tion. But this, as has been indicated, does not prevent its being also as strictly one of history as any external or visible process whatever. The theories of thinkers are in an obvious sense as much historical facts and realities as births and deaths, treaties and battles, the changes of dynasties and the revolutions of peoples. What men have thought about history is thus itself a section of history; and, like all that is history, it should be treated in the first and chief place simply as history; that is, should be studied solely with a view to discover precisely what it is and how it has come to be what it is. This must be steadily borne in mind throughout the present work. Our primary and main aim is to describe an historical process in a truly historical spirit and manner. No apology would be needed were no more than this attempted. The historian of ideas is no more bound to constitute himself the judge of their truth or falsity, than the historian of events is bound to pronounce on their wisdom or folly, rightness or wrongness. The sole duty of the historian, alike of ideas and events, is to give a complete history of them —such a history as will of itself imply the true judgment of them.

Such being the case, it may perhaps be thought that it would be wise not to go beyond the proper sphere of the historian, and to abstain from pronouncing on the truth or falsity, probability or improbability, of the speculations gradually unfolded. The space allotted to the criticism of theories and systems is apt to be taken from that required for their adequate presentation. Obviously, the danger of unfairness is greatly increased when the historian of opinion ventures to become its judge. The characters and functions of the historian and the critic are so different that the critic may easily, and even unduly, discredit the historian. There is much undeniable truth in this view. The risks involved in attempting to discharge the two distinct offices specified cannot be too fully recognised, and should, as a general rule, be avoided. One who undertakes, for instance, to write a history of philosophy or of theology will do well to refrain from any criticism except such as seems absolutely necessary to make apparent the course and character of the historical development itself. The histories both of philosophy and of theology are so lengthened and comprehensive that to attempt more than their delineation must be unprofitable and futile. To imagine that any service will be rendered either to philosophy or theology by such cursory criticisms as their historians can append to their expositions, must appear almost ludicrous when one considers with what keenness, and from how many points of view, the cardinal problems of philosophy and of theology have already for ages been discussed. It is otherwise, however, with a comparatively recent and comparatively limited department of knowledge, such as the philosophy or science of history. In this case the limits of the history leave room for the criticism of the theories. In this case, also, a judicious criticism of theories may reasonably be hoped to be of real and immediate service to the new discipline which is struggling into existence. And therefore, in this case the advantages attainable may warrant our attempting what is not generally advisable. But, of course, care must be taken that the historical exposition and the critical appreciation of the theories successively submitted to examination be kept clearly distinct, and that the former be never obscured or perverted in order to give relief and seeming conclusiveness to the latter.


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