History Begins in the Future: On Historical Sensibility in the Age of Technology

In Stefan Helgesson & Jayne Svenungsson (eds.), The Ethos of History: Time and Responsibility. New York City, New York, USA: Berghahn Books. pp. 192-209 (2018)
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The humanities and the social sciences have been hostile to future visions in the postwar period. The most famous victim of their hostility was the enterprise of classical philosophy of history, condemned to illegitimacy precisely because of its fundamental engagement with the future. Contrary to this attitude, in this essay I argue that there is no history (neither in the sense of the course of human affairs nor in the sense of historical writing) without having a future vision in the first place. History, its very possibility, begins in the future, in the postulation of a future where further change can take place. Our notions of history, change, and the future are interdependent, they come as one package, meaning that the abandonment of one entails the abandonment of the other two. As to the current situation, although lately it became a commonplace to diagnose our age as presentist, Western societies are deeply engaged in a vision of the future revolving around artificial intelligence and the prospect of technological singularity. This technological vision is best characterized as the prospect of unprecedented change, substantially differing from Enlightenment and nineteenth-century developmental visions of future. If our notions of history, change, and the future are necessarily interdependent, and if we have a characteristically new future vision, it follows that our historical sensibility is already transformed and is accommodated to the prospect of unprecedented change. The ultimate aim of this essay is to outline this transformed historical sensibility of our technological age.

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Zoltán Boldizsár Simon
Bielefeld University


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