- Historicism in its radical, twentieth-century form is the view that history, construed as an essentially contingent process, is the ultimate framework within which to evaluate and justify the truths of human knowing and the meanings of human action. This study undertakes a thorough critique, both positive and negative, of the historicism that has become a contemporary intellectual habit. Ultimately, not only is radical historicism wholly inadequate to the tasks of justification that it sets itself, it also rests on a disputable metaphysical conception of the historical.
As a philosophical critique of reason, and therewith a doctrine of human nature, radical historicism is to be distinguished from historicism in its classical and more well-known form. The latter is characterized by a developmental and dynamical view of the objects proper to historiography and the human sciences. In contrast, the greater scope of radical historicism claims to set the limits of human understanding and a fortiori the boundaries of philosophy. As stated, the doctrine is demonstrably incoherent and nihilistic, yet the logical indictment of radical historicism has been largely unheeded. This raises the question of why an untenable doctrine should continue to remain attractive.
The positive part of this study is devoted to an examination and rehabilitation of the philosophical motives underlying the historicist gesture. It has two main aspects. First, a genealogical critique shows that radical historicism has its roots in philosophical presuppositions characteristic of modernity, whose adequacy may be challenged. In particular, historicism remains a doctrine of subjectivity and immanence. The second part delves into the metaphysical commitments of the historicistic view of history and the historical. A critical evaluation of the contemporary notion of historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) as expressed by Heidegger and Gadamer leads to a consideration of Hegel's metaphysics of history. Radical historicism shows itself to be a consequence of over-emphasizing the dimension of action in the economy of human being. This over-emphasis imposes a demonstrably restrictive view of both human intelligence and the meaning of human mortality, a view that, as is argued throughout, destroys the possibility of philosophy.
- Dissertation Note:
- Ph.D. The Pennsylvania State University 1987.
- Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 49-04, Section: A, page: 8390.
Adviser: Stanley H. Rosen.
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