We Are History: The Outlines of a Quasi-Substantive Philosophy of History

Rethinking History 20 (2):259-279 (2016)
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In times of a felt need to justify the value of the humanities, the need to revisit and re-establish the public relevance of the discipline of history cannot come as a surprise. On the following pages I will argue that this need is unappeasable by scholarly proposals. The much desired revitalization of historical writing lies instead in reconciling ourselves with the dual meaning of the word history, in exploring the necessary interconnection between history understood as the course of events and as historical writing. Despite the general tendency of the last decades to forbid philosophizing about history in the former sense (at least in departments of history and philosophy), I think that to a certain extent we already do so without succumbing to substantive thought. We already have the sprouts of a speculative although only quasi-substantive philosophy of history that nevertheless takes seriously the postwar criticism of the substantive enterprise. In this essay I will first try to outline this quasi-substantive philosophy of history that attests to the historical sensibility of our times; and second, I will try to outline its consequences regarding history as historical writing. Finally, in place of a conclusion I will suggest that historical writing is not as much a contribution to public agendas as it is the very arena in which public life is at stake.

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Zoltán Boldizsár Simon
Bielefeld University


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