Reply to Historicism

Philosophy 21 (80):245 - 257 (1946)
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History has become a real and urgent problem. It harasses us in a double form, theoretical and practical, corresponding to the double meaning of the term “history” as either “a sequence of events in time” or “our knowledge of past events”. The first concerns our attitude to human history. We somehow suffer from “historical indigestion”. We may have mastered Nature, but we have certainly not yet mastered History. Therefore it threatens to dominate us. The mass of past events is too much for us and for our memory, too many dates, too many facts, too many interesting or indifferent happenings. We cannot even keep pace with, or realize, all the important events which fill our own times, like world-wars, revolutions, counter-revolutions, inflation and deflation, with all the misery they imply. Consciously or unconsciously we feel ashamed of the human record, of the amount of cruelty, destruction, murder, and martyrdom inflicted on innocent beings. In spite of all this we cannot escape History. All the great events affect every human being. Moreover, historical knowledge permeates our education and is disturbingly growing from year to year, more in detail and in specialization than as a co-ordinated whole. We may react to this situation in one of three ways: by filling our brain with this unco-ordinated mass of historical knowledge, and submerging our personality in it, by becoming specialists and disregarding problems other than our own, by ignoring the past altogether, and falling back into the state of nature and barbarism. We have witnessed all these solutions and their disquieting results



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The Problem of Historical Knowledge.Carl Becker & Maurice Mandelbaum - 1940 - Philosophical Review 49 (3):361.

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