Philosophy of History
Philosophy 315

Course Description. This course will examine how several major philosophers have understood history. What patterns, if any are there in history? Can history be a science or is there inevitably going to be room for interpretation and speculation? What factors motivate historical actors? Is history leading anywhere or operating in accordance with any laws? These questions and others will be explored in the context of classroom discussion of required readings. Among the philosophers that will or might be discussed in this course are St. Augustine, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Collingwood, and Toynbee. Students will also be expected to read from a selection of recent articles on the philosophy of history (see supplemental readings list below).

Course Syllabus. Click here for a word version of Fall 2018 syllabus.

Paper Topics. Click here for the paper topics. 1000 word essays are due October 2, 2018.

Midterm Study Sheet. Click here for the study guide for the midterm. The midterm will be September 25, 2018..

Final Exam Study Sheet. Click here for the study guide for the final. The final will be Thursday, December 6, 10:15am-12:15pm.


October 18, 2018 lecture. Click here for Judith Butler's lecture on Benjamin's Philosophy of History

October 2 Lecture: Click here for a narrated powerpoint demonstration on the first part of Nietzsche's "Uses and Abuses of History for Life"

Supplemental lecture. Click here for Jared Diamond's "Why did Europeans Dominate?" lecture.

Click here for the lecture by Carlo Ginzburg. The lecture was given just this past April and touches on a number of themes discussed in class. Ginzburg begins his lecture at minute 13.

Recommended Links.



G.W.F. Hegel. The Philosophy of History.

Benjamin, Walter. "The Concept of History"

Carr, David. "Narrative and the Real World: An Argument for Continuity" This essay does a good job laying out all the philosophical implications of narrative and how they might be applied to the doing of history.

Christian, David. "The Return of Universal History" This essay returns us to where we began with a contemporary reworking of what a 21st century universal history might look like.

Collingwood, R.G. "Are History and Science Different Kinds of Knowledge?" Essay that laid the founation for the Collingwood's important book, The Idea of History. (1922, 23 pages).

Collins, Randall. "Market Dynamics as the Engine of Historical Change" A sociologist's macro-perspective on the driving forces behind historical change. (1990, 24 pages).

Ginzburg, Carlo. "Clues: Roots of a Scientific Program" Ginzburg, in books such as Cheese and the Worms and The Night Battles: Witchraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, has placed himself at the head of what has come to be called microhistory. This essay reflects upon the methodology of his approach. (1979, 15 pages).

Humboldt, Wilhelm von. "On the Historian's Task" This essay was presented one year before Hegel presented his philosophy of history lectures. This early German essay is one of the more important of the early nineteenth century essays that set the historical discipline on its way as a separate "scientific" discipline. (1821, 15 pages).

Lewis, David. "Causation" This essay is important as both a philosophical essay (it has been reprinted dozens of times) and as an essay that can reveal the difficulties associated with attempting to determine historical causation. (1973, 11 pages).

McNeill, William H. "Mythhistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians" Essay by an important historian and theorist. McNeill's book, The Pursuit of Power, is extremely influential. McNeill has also written on the Black Death (Plagues and Peoples). (1986, 10 pages).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. "On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life" One of Nietzsche's early essays and his clearest statement of his philosophy of history.

Ricoeur, Paul. "History and Hermeneutics" This essay is by one of the more important French philosophers of history from the latter half of the twentieth century. (1976, 12 pages).

Schiller, Friedrich von. "The Nature and Value of Universal History" This late eighteenth century essay would come to have a profound influence upon later thinkers and contemporaries such as Kant and Hegel. In many ways this essay launched the intellectual effort to chart the overarching causes and directions of historical events. (1789, 13 pages).

Wallerstein, Immanuel. "A World-System Perspective on the Social Sciences" Wallerstein is one of the leading intellectuals in what is called the world-systems approach to understanding history. Derived largely from Fernand Braudel, this approach argues that historical changes result as cycles within the world-system of economies play themselves out.

White, Hayden. "The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory" White is one of the more influential yet controversial of contemporary philosophers of history. His argument that history is necessarily narrative and at times fictional, an argument made in his book Metahistory, has led some to consider White an anti-historian. (1984, 33 pages).

Windelband, Wilhelm. "On History and Natural Science" This 1894 address on becoming rector at the University of Strasbourg marks an important turning point in the philosophy of history. The Hegelian (and hence Marxist) view had fallen out of favor and Windelband sought to sketch alternatives to Hegel. (1894, 16 pages).