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THE CONCEPT OF SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

Author(s): Rolf Gruner


Source: Metaphilosophy, Vol. 3, No. 4 (October 1972), pp. 283-300
Published by: Wiley
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METAPHILOSOPHY

Vol. 3, No. 4, October 1972

THE CONCEPT OF SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY


OF HISTORY

Rolf Gruner

Contemporary philosophers frequently distinguish betwee


critical and speculative philosophy of history, and this divis
is on the way to becoming well established. But whatever m
be the position with respect to the former, the latter conce
is often too much on the narrow side and possesses a cer
sterility which leaves little room for further critical explorat
In the following I shall first try to give reasons for my dissa
faction with the way in which speculative philosophy of hist
is usually conceived. I shall then attempt to develop a differ
concept, or at least to indicate the lines on which such an
undertaking could proceed.

The distinction between critical and speculative philosophy


of history seems to have been derived, at least as far as the
names are concerned, from C. D. Broad's distinction of critical
and speculative philosophy,1 and it is indeed a fairly obvious
one to make. (There is also the term 'analytical philosophy of
history' but since this may be taken either as being synonymous
with 'critical philosophy of history' or as referring to a sub
division of critical philosophy of history, I need not concern
myself with it here.) The matter is seen in analogy with philo
sophy of science and philosophy of nature: the former, similar
to critical philosophy of history, deals with the knowledge of
the subject; the latter, similar to speculative philosophy of
history, with the subject itself.2 The difficulty is only that where
as in one case we have two terms available ('science' and
'nature'), in the other we have to be content with one, because
the term 'history' is used to refer to both the real thing, and
the knowledge of the thing, res gestae and historia rerum
gestarum. The philosopher, insofar as he deals with the latter,

1C. D. Broad, Scientific Thought, London, 1923, pp. 18 ff.


2W. H. Walsh, An Introduction to the Philosophy of History, 7th impr., London,
1964, p. 4.

283

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284 ROLF GRUNER

will be an epistemologist, methodologist and logician.


as he deals with the former he will be a metaphysicia
interest is directed towards the sense, the meaning, the
d'etre of human history as a whole.
Without a doubt, this is a useful distinction. But it is just
as well to point out that there are some awkward cases which
can be accommodated only with difficulty, if at all, and which
should not be forgotten. Take, for instance, the question as to
the purpose and value of historical study and knowledge which
can be a very philosophical question indeed. Obviously, it does
not belong to the speculative branch. Nor does it seem to fit
in the critical philosophy of history if this is conceived, in
analogy to the philosophy of science, as being concerned with
the logic and methodology of historical knowledge. Further,
there is the whole field of what could be called the philosophy
of historical consciousness which again is not speculative in our
sense and which deals with epistomological problems only in
a secondary way. So when one follows common practice and
adopts this distinction one should do so with some reservations,
and with the understanding that the two branches do not
necessarily exhaust the field.
Now, what we notice when we look at present-day literature
is that many authors feel much more at ease with the critical
than with the speculative species. In fact, there is often a certain
reluctance, not to say distaste, with which the latter is treated.
This has well-known reasons, and I certainly do not want to
quarrel with philosophical preferences. But if I read apologies
such as that because there is a recurrent interest in speculative
philosophy of history, "no survey of our present subject could
neglect it altogether",3 I have to ask myself whether things are
really as bad as that. If they are I suspect that this is due to
the rather uninteresting concept of speculative philosophy of
history which has been adopted.
A further sign of this general uneasiness may perhaps be
seen in the way in which speculative philosophy of history is
sometimes presented in introductory literature. While the part
dealing with critical philosophy is arranged systematically, the
part on speculative philosophy consists mainly in the presenta
tion of some individual cases and their analysis. It is thought
better to follow here "a more indirect method: the exposition
3Walsh, ibid., p. 26In the case of Walsh's little book this attitude also finds
expression in terms of space. Not counting this introductory first chapter, approxi
mately 90 pages are devoted to critical and approximately 50 pages to speculative
philosophy of history.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 285

of, and comment upon, examples".4 But anybody wi


critical interest in the speculative branch will not be
such a treatment. He will look for some systematic e
of the issues involved, even in an introductory text.
What is more, the examples in question are often c
a way which, together with the general remarks, ten
a somewhat misleading impression as to the char
scope of philosophy of history (speculative philoso
tory, that is; in future I shall usually save myself th
of adding this word). To put it bluntly, the scope is
the character more varied than is here indicated. This has to
do with the fact that there is a tendency to concentrate on the
great names and to believe that philosophy of history proper
only existed during a certain period. Thus one author "for
practical purposes" thinks himself "justified in asserting that
philosophy of history first attained recognition as a separate
subject in the period which opened with the publication, in
1784, of the first part of Herder's Ideas for a Philosophical
History of Mankind and closed soon after the appearance of
Hegel's posthumous Lectures of the Philosophy of History in
1837."5 Another defends "the usual practice of regarding the
rise of philosophy of history as a serious study as the work of
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries" to which
he adds that this "first flowering of speculative philosophy of
history was also, in a sense, its last".6 Now, in that period the
philosophy of history happened to be of a "linear" and optimis
tic kind. Hence, the impression, even if perhaps against the
authors' intention,7 that this is the prototype while anything
else must be counted as a variation, a view which would be
quite unjustified. Of course, a lot depends on the force of such
qualifying phrases as 'recognition as a separate subject' and
'as a serious study', but whether they are historically tenable
or not, they are really irrelevant in the context in which they
appear. In other words, for the exposition of the subject as it
is undertaken in the works cited the question of whether philo
sophy of history is or is not regarded as a field in its own right
is out of place, especially if it is put in a way which can be
construed as suggesting that in times when it is not so regarded
philosophy of history is of less importance and less interest.
4W. H. Dray, Philosophy of History, Englewood Cliffs, 1964, p. 66.
3Walsh, ibid., p. 11.
6Dray, ibid., pp. 60, 60-1.
TWalsh, in a kind of appendix, has something to say about Toynbee. And Dray
chooses Toynbee and Niebuhr as two of his three examples (the third one is Hegel).

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286 ROLF GRUNER

What I have criticized so far is not so much a view of the


history of the subject as the terms in which it is put. But the
are also indications that the view itself may be in need of som
improvement. For instance, it is something of an overstateme
to say that after St. Augustine there was little "of very gre
importance" in the philosophy of history before Vico.8 Aft
all, there was a whole millenarian tradition in the Middle Ages
a tradition which is not only different from but even opposed
to the Augustinian doctrine. What is more, it had a stron
influence well into the nineteenth century and cannot simp
be regarded as an aberration of little importance. Some peop
might say that this chiliastic type of theory is so preposterou
that there is no need to take it seriously. To which my answe
would be that if it is preposterous then hardly more so th
the theories of a Hegel, Comte or Spengler, three philosopher
who are taken seriously by many.
When we come to the usual subdivisions and classifications
of speculative philosophy of history, I again have to find some
fault. Take the common distinction between "cyclical" and
"linear" views (to which is sometimes added a combination of
both, the "spiral" thesis). This is certainly not without point,
especially since it throws light on the differences in basic
conception and outlook between classical antiquity and the
Christian world. But it has to be handled with subtlety, and
what is more, it should not be forgotten that these two kinds
do not exhaust the field, even if we add certain combinations
of them. Speculative views are possiblenever mind whether
they have actually been proposedwhich are basically neither
cyclical nor linear. To leave these out of account altogether
would hardly be justified.9 It is also necessary to emphasize
the schematic character of such a distinction and the fact that
within each category views may be found which have very
little in common with each other. For instance, theories such as
those of Spengler or Toynbee can be called cyclical, and so can
those of the Greeks. But there are differences of the greatest
importance between them, not only with regard to the general
spirit and motivation but also as far as the formal pattern is
concerned: while the Greeks believed that the whole world,
nature included, underwent continuous cycles of youth, maturity
and decay, for people like Spengler and Toynbee that which
SDray, ibid., p. 60.
9Dray, ibid., pp. 62 ff, does refer to a third kind which he calls chaotic and as
an example of which he later treats the views of Niebuhr.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 287

undergoes the cyclical movement are only individ


or civilizations. This constitutes a difference of s
tude that it is misleading to call both types by the
and leave it at that.
Admittedly, all the foregoing are minor points. But added
together they amount to something. They amount to a concept
of philosophy of history which is inadequate. It should be
wider; it should be more balanced; it should take into account
not only the popular names and not only the "professionals".
Speculations on history are not the prerogative of specialists
in the field. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to say
that many interesting things which have been going on, and
perhaps are still going on, are sometimes not part of profes
sional philosophy of history at all. In works of history and
politics, literature and theology, as well as in some branches
of philosophy proper, especially in social and political philo
sophy, there are often contained, explicitly or implicity, specula
tive views on human history which, whether they are tenable
or not, are important and interesting, and perhaps more so than
the contents of many a work which deals with the subject
expressly, intentionally, and systematically. This mine remains
unexploited if one operates with a concept of philosophy of
history which is formed on three or four, or even five or six
or eight or ten, "regular" cases and which only recognizes two
or three types when in fact there have been many more, and
far still more could be considered as possibilities. Of course,
it is not always possible or even desirable to go into great detail.
But however short one has to be, one should somehow manage
to indicate that philosophy of history is not confined to the
specialist philosophers of history.
After all, it does come fairly naturally to most reflective men
to engage in speculations of this nature, and there is indeed
"a strong tendency to raise questions about the course of
history".10 It is true that many people of our own times are
reluctant to admit to themselves and to others that they have
such speculative views. They are reluctant not only because
they think that the more famous philosophies of history have
been discredited but also because they do not hold their beliefs
with very great conviction and have not worked them out in
detail. Nevertheless, they are present. They are even present
with some philosophers who decry metaphysics in general and
metaphysics of history in particular. This is not very surprising
lOWalsh, ibid., p. 25.

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288 ROLF GRUNER

for, as it has been well put many years ago, "we some
our Critical Philosophy with half an eye on our Sp
Philosophy and accept or reject beliefs, or analyse c
a certain way, because we feel that this will fit in bet
any alternative with the view of Reality as a who
happen to like".11 As far as speculations on histor
cerned, these are indulged in by many philosophers on
off-hours. There is a kind of bifurcation of what is s
sionally and what is believed privately even if it may b
only in a half-conscious way and may constitute a c
of which an account is neither asked for nor given. It
me, for instance, that many professional philosop
would call themselves "analytic" are privately great be
progress. Based on their moral and political presup
they find when they look at the past that throughout
of history things by and large have become better an
True, they recognize that at the same time great new
have been generated, problems which in the prese
many people's minds. But they are optimists enough t
that by the skilful application of science, by universa
and all-around "planning" these problems will gradually be
overcome, progress will continue, and mankind will develop
towards a desirable goal. It is fairly obvious that from experi
ence alone, or from experience plus formal logic, such a belief
cannot be derived. It transcends experience and can only be
classified under the heading of philosophy of history.
But we need not go so far as this. Forgetting about the private
sphere, there are statements made by philosophers qua philo
sophers which point in the same general direction. Take, for
example, the following passage (written, it is true, already in
1938, but reprinted at least twice, in 1967 and 1969, and thus
presumably still expressing the view of the author). "It is
obvious that the doctrine of historical pluralism which was put
forward in the last chapter leads to a discussion of the philo
sophy of history, for historical pluralism seems to deny the
very possibility of the philosophy of history taken in this sense.
If there is an ultimate pluralism in history the attempt to
decipher the message which is contained in 'the historical
process as a whole' is futile."12 What seems to be said or implied
HBroad, ibid., p. 21.
12M. Mandelbaum, The Problem of Historical Knowledge. An Answer to Rela
tivsm, New York, 1938, p. 306. (Reprinted as a "Harper Torchbook", New York . . .
1967; the section from which the quotation is taken is also reprinted as M. Mandel
baum, "Speculative Philosophy of History: A Critique", in: R. H. Nash, ed., Ideas
of History, New York, 1969, Vol. 1, pp. 268-278.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 289

here is that such an attempt is futile because the


ism" and hence no "message". But saying that th
message in the overall course of history is to make
on this course, and such a statement necessarily
philosophy of history. It is certainly not a "meta-sta
The assertion that there is no message or meani
in this as in other cases, on the fact "that philo
history in the commonly accepted meaning of the t
be constructed upon any empirical basis", and thi
be sufficient for their disposal.13 However, apart fr
that only few speculators on history have rested
exclusively on experience and that it is just the pur
undertakings to ask questions which cannot be answ
basis of empirical knowledge alone, from the absen
pleteness of such a basis one cannot conclude that
no message or meaning. It might be objected he
conclusion is possible as there is after all such a
negative evidence. If I look for a mouse in my room
find it I am justified in saying "There is no mouse
if I look for the meaning of history and cannot find
wise justified in saying "There is no meaning". H
cases are not analogous. Whether there is a mou
room or not is an empirical question. That is, ex
(together with certain presuppositions which make
possible) is sufficient for coming to a conclusion
negative. But in the case of the meaning of histo
sufficient and cannot be sufficient. The question
question of metaphysics ("Does God exist?", "Are
echies?" etc.) is such that it cannot be answered
grounds, or on empirical grounds alone. Experience
be accommodated, whether the answer is "yes" or "
the fact that I cannot discover a meaning of hist
look at the historical evidence does not permit m
that there is no meaning. Even the most radical
cannot honestly come to this conclusion. Under his
he is justified only in saying that the question is us
point, is devoid of meaning. Any other reply would
he has mistaken a metaphysical question for an emp
My previous remarks amount to the view that of
consider such matters at all only those who say "I d
whether there is a meaning of history", "The q
whether there is a meaning is a senseless one", etc.,
l3Mandelbaum, ibid., p. 320.

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290 ROLF GRUNER

not to engage in speculation. Th


speculative philosophy of history
usual one, and in the following I

II

As we have seen, speculative philosophy of history is said to


be concerned with history as reality (whereas critical philo
sophy of history is concerned with history as knowledge). On
the other hand, it is also characterized in terms of "the meaning
of history", i.e., as being concerned with the meaning of the
overall course of human history, from its beginning to its end.
These descriptions are not inconsistent with each other; in
fact, rightly understood the second can be taken to explicate
or supplement the first. However, it all depends on how the
meaning of history is conceived, and it seems to me that it is
frequently conceived in an unsuitable way.
Thus, some authors give it at once a rather peculiar twist, the
twist namely that all speculative philosophers of history are
out to discover meaning, that they "search for an ultimate
message which can be found in the historical process as a
whole" (italics mine),14 with the implication or suggestion that
they do find such a message in the end, at least to their own
satisfaction, indeed that they would be very disappointed if
they did not find it, and hence that, come what may, they make
sure that their search is successful, by ignoring inconvenient
data and forcing others into a preconceived mould. Now, I do
not deny that many people have in fact proceeded in this way,
but it is by no means necessary that they do so in order to
describe them correctly as speculative philosophers of history.
In other words, it is not true that philosophy of history is a
search for the meaning of history; it is only asking the question
of whether history has a meaning and coming out with some
answer in terms of "yes" or "no". Asking a question is different
from looking for an affirmative answer.
The matter is worse if the search for meaning is in turn
equated with the search for a telos, a goal or purpose of history,
and one claims that philosophy of history is necessarily based
on a "principle of teleological development".15 It is easy to see
that this is quite wrong. What would be the purpose, for
UMandelbaum, ibid., pp. 305-06.
loMandelbaum, ibid., p. 270.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 291

instance, in the case of a cyclical type of the Greek pattern?


What can be the goal of history if history is an endless repeti
tion of the same?
The previous points are associated with a further one. This
is the tendency to emphasize, or overemphasize, the element of
theodicy, and in particular the element of a theodicy which is
expressed in a rational plan of the whole course of history. The
thesis or suggestion then is that philosophers of history are,
necessarily or essentially, concerned with bringing out the
underlying rationality of the historical process, in such a way
that the existence of evil in history is justified. They are said
to be intent on this because of "the feeling that there is some
thing morally outrageous in the notion that history has no
rhyme or reason in it".16 Again, I do not deny that this very
often has been the driving force, especially as far as the authors
of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are con
cerned. But once more, it is by no means always that this
motivation is present, and still less would it be appropriate to
make its presence a defining characteristic of philosophy of
history. The spirit in which one can speculate on history can
be of many different kinds, and the fear to admit the irration
ality of the historical process or the wish to justify the existence
of evil in history are not the only motivations. Not all specu
lators are disturbed by these problems.
The upshot of these remarks is again that speculative philo
sophy of history has been conceived too narrowly. If one wants
to retain the idea that this philosophy is concerned with history
as reality, as opposed to history as knowledge, and if one
assumes further that a philosophical preoccupation with history
as reality must take the form of a concern with the meaning of
history, one cannot restrict one's view or emphasis in the
manner described. The question is, of course, what is meant,
or what can be meant, by the expression 'the meaning of
history', and to this I shall turn now.
Let us take for granted the difference between the meaning
of history and meanings within history, i.e., the general philo
sophical question and the questions asked by historians. This
difference has been well established,17 and I shall not say any
thing about it here but confine myself to "meaning" in the first
context. Now, it is rare that one finds a systematic explication
or analysis of that concept, and the only view I can refer to is
l6Walsh, ibid., p. 121.
I'See, for instance, W. H. Walsh, " 'Meaning' in History", in: P. Gardiner, ed.,
Theories of History, New York, 1959, pp. 296-307.

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292 ROLF GRUNER

one which maintains that the question "Has history any m


ing?" has three components, namely (1) "What is the pa
of history?" (for instance, linear, cyclical or chaotic), (2) "
is the mechanism of history?" (for instance, a causal
principle which makes history tick), and (3) "What is
purpose or value or justification of history?"18
In the light of what went before, my first comment w
obvious: none of these questions should be formulated
terms of "what is" for to ask "what is x?" is to imply
belief in the existence of x, and this belief is not neces
present in our case. If the general question is, as I believe
"Has history any meaning?", then the component que
cannot start with "What is . . ." but must also start with
"Has . . The first of the three, for instance, should not
read "What is the pattern of History?" but "Has history any
pattern?"
My second comment is that question (2) does not belong in
this list at all, and for the following reasons. There are, it seems,
two candidates for assertions of mechanism in history. One has
the form of a causal or pseudo-causal statement, for instance,
"All historical change is due to economic causes". The other
is metaphysical in nature and may be exemplified by "All
historical change is dialectical". Both are statements of general
and unrestricted form. They are, therefore, not of a genuinely
historical character. For saying that all phenomena of a certain
kind x are of kind y (or are caused by phenomena of kind y),
without explicit or implicit temporal restrictions, is not making
a historical statement, whatever the phenomena in question may
be. This formal point is connected with another: the term
'historical' in each of the two statements can be replaced by
something else. There is no difference in substance between
'All historical change is due to economic causes' and 'All social
change is due to economic causes'; and similar for 'All historical
change is dialectical' and 'All social change is dialectical'. So
what might be called "the specific historical dimension" is not
essential in these cases; the question of whether there is a
mechanism of history is not specifically a question of the philo
sophy of history.
One might object here that if this is true for mechanism, it is
also true for pattern, and question (1) has to be dropped together
with question (2). But an affirmation of a pattern of history
(even of a repetitive pattern) is a statement about the overall
18Dray, ibid., pp. 63-6.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 293

course of human history; and as this course is an individual


and particular course, the statement in question is not general
but particular and hence quite different from a statement of
mechanism. In fact, if this difference did not exist, the distinc
tion of pattern and mechanism would be untenable.
It is further my thesis that in the sense which is relevant here
the existence of a pattern bestows meaning on history, not,
however, the existence of a mechanism. The belief, for instance,
that the course of history is linear and goes from an initial point
in the past to a final and different point in the future is
sufficient, although not necessary, for the belief that history
has meaning, at least to some extent. On the other hand, the
belief in a causal or metaphysical mechanism is neither neces
sary nor sufficient for the belief in meaning. It is not necessary
because one can find meaning in history without finding a
mechanism. It is not sufficient because mechanism in itself is
neutral. The alleged fact that all historical change is due to
economic causes cannot bestow meaning on the overall course
of human history. The same holds for the view that all historical
change is dialectical in nature. This may seem less plausible
but only because very often an element of value has been incor
porated here from the beginning, such that the crowning
"synthesis" is conceived as something better than the original
"thesis" and its "antithesis". In this case meaning is indeed
established, but by virtue of the value attached, not by virtue
of the mechanism itself.
As this example already shows, assertions of mechanism can
be used, and have been used, in combination with, and in sup
port of, the belief that history has meaning. The Marxian view
that the means of production and distribution are the prime
movers in social affairs and hence also in history is perhaps the
best case in point.19 No doubt, orthodox Marxism is also a philo
sophy of history but it is not the assertion of this mechanism
that is responsible for it. It is the five-stage theory of a unique
historical development, from primitive society via slavery,
Feudalism and Capitalism to Communism, the last being con
ceived as a millenarian future state when history in the normal
sense will have come to an end. However intimately the mono
l9It has been said that the alleged law or laws involved are usually not held in
a way in which an empirical hypothesis is held, i.e., tentatively and refutable by
future evidence, that they seem to be advocated like necessary truths, and that this
is suitable to provide them with a philosophical or quasi-philosophical character
(Walsh, An Introduction to the Philosophy of History, p. 26-7). But this explains at
most why Marxism can be viewed as a philosophy. It does not account for it's being
a philosophy of history, as opposed, for instance, to a social philosophy.

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294 ROLF GRUNER

causal theory of society and the linear theory of histo


be fused here, logically they are distinct and independ
there are people who without inconsistency accept
reject the other.
After this elimination of question (2), the question of
mechanism, let us turn at last to question (3). This reads (in our
improved version) "Has history a purpose or value or justifica
tion?", a formulation which suggests that these three elements
amount to the same thing, at least by and large or more or
less. Now, the word 'justification' seems to be indeed redun
dant. For saying that history, i.e., the whole historical process,
is justified means either that the fact that there is such a process
at all is justified or that whatever forms part of the process is
justified. In either case there must be something by virtue or
because of which justification can be asserted, and as far as I
can see this can only be value or purpose; if history is justified
at all, it is justified either because it possesses value or because
it serves a purpose (a purpose to which in turn value is attached).
Hence, we can confine ourselves to value and purpose without
referring to justification. But the position is quite different as
far as purpose and value themselves are concerned. They do not
amount to the same thing nor does one entail the other. In fact,
they are so different that they should not be tied together in the
way in which this has been done here. This, I hope, will become
clear presently.
Instead of the original set of questions we now have a new
set. The three questions which form the components of the
master question "Has history any meaning?" now read "Has
history a pattern?", "Has history a purpose?" and "Has history
a value?" Or, to put matters differently, the expression 'the
meaning of history' is to be analysed into three parts or
elements, pattern, purpose and value.20
Before I go on to defend the view that these elements are not
only different but independent of each other, I have to say
something about the way in which they have to be taken. As
for the concept of purpose this, of course, is teleological in
character and hence similar to the concept of goal. A purpose
in the present context is usually conceived as a state, in some
sense intended, which comes at or after the end of the historical
process. True, strictly speaking the purpose of history need not
30A similar treatment can be found in a footnote by Georg Simmel, Die Probleme
der Geschichtsphilosophie, 3rd (enlarged) ed., Leipzig, 1907, pp. 128-9. Simmel there
distinguished between meaning (Sinn), purpose (Zweck) and value (Wert) and asserts
their mutual independence.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 295

be such a state, and it would not be committing a logical e


to say, for instance, that the purpose of history consists
viding God with the opportunity of exercising His omnipot
this is why there is history at all. However, this type of
exceptional, and as I have to simplify somewhere I prop
to ignore it. On the other hand, it should be clear that, in
where the purpose of history is taken to be the final st
history, being in such a state does not entail being in the f
It only entails that no further state will follow. In other w
it is possible to believe, without being inconsistent, th
purpose of history has already been achieved and that
present mankind is living out this purpose. Keeping these p
in mind, I shall in the following regard 'the purpose of h
and 'the goal of history' as interchangeable, allowing
same time that the purpose or goal may be conceived as
still within history or already outside it, as forming the
state of history or a state beyond all history.
As for value, this must be understood here in the sen
positive value. For whoever in one way or other prop
the view that history has value does not only wish to den
it is evaluatively neutral, but wants to assert more nar
that in some sense it is good. A man who maintains that hi
is all misery and wretchedness certainly makes a judgmen
value on history but he does not ascribe positive valu
hence cannot be said to believe that history has value.
The concept of pattern creates the greatest trouble o
three, and, unlike the others, it has received little atte
from philosophers. 'Pattern' is a word which only in recent
has had its original meanings (as in 'pattern of the wall-pa
'he behaved according to pattern', 'the tailor lost his patte
extended to cover things of all kinds. In fact, it is in dan
becoming a word of jargon. In the present case it would g
far to engage in a thorough analysis, and I can only make
general remarks. 'The pattern of history' refers to the sh
form the course of history takes. Shape and form (as p
itself) are spatial concepts which are applied here to some
which is temporal in character. However, pattern entails m
than this; it entails a certain consistency, an "inner lo
according to which temporal phenomena follow each ot
a certain order. The order may be repetitive (as the patter
a wall-paper is repetitive) or it may not. But in any case,
who has the key to the pattern, i.e., who knows the pr
according to which the pattern is arranged, is able to say

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296 ROLF GRUNER

history in the end will look like as a whole, in a similar


in which, when watching the weaving of an oriental rug,
tell, once I have got the hang of the thing, what the r
look like when it is finished. Although most people who s
of the pattern of history think of the cyclical and linear a
ments, it is quite obvious that the number of possible pat
is infinite. It is true, if 'cyclical' is equated with 'repetitiv
'linear' with 'non-repetitive', then there can be only these
types. But within each of them the possible variations are
out end. For instance, the classical cyclical pattern is f
on the model of the seasons or the ages of man and hen
a four- or three-beat rhythm (ABCDABCD ... or
ABC . . . ). But this arrangement is by no means a nec
one; there could be other rhythms (for instance, A
DCBAABCD . . .) which are of a cyclical form.
I must also point out that although for simplicity's
always speak of purpose, value and pattern in the singular,
is no reason why a speculator on history should not a
ledge the existence of several purposes, values, or pattern
view that philosophy of history is necessarily monist
character21 is false. With respect to value the questio
hardly arise anyway, for when we say that history has v
use the term in a way which is beyond singular and plu
for pattern, the matter may be similar, but it is also p
to maintain that history has one specific pattern, or t
three, or twenty-three. Since these patterns are nece
patterns of the same thing one might say that we are
to speak of one pattern only. But I cannot agree to t
cannot see why it should be impossible to speak of dif
patterns superimposed on each other, in a similar way in
patterns on a piece of cloth can be superimposed. The
still be regarded as different from each other because eac
its own order and follows its own principle. What hol
pattern holds, mutatis mutandis, also for purpose. Histor
have more than one purpose even if purpose here is ident
with final state and there can be only one final state
sounds paradoxical but what it amounts to is only that
one description we are obliged to speak of one thing,
under another description we can speak of more than one
Considerations of this nature are suitable to draw our atten
tion to interesting questions on the relationships between
different philosophies of history. For instance, is the pattern,
21A view propounded, for instance, by Mandelbaum, ibid., pp. 307 ff.

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 297

purpose or value of one compatible with that of anothe


what extent would it be correct to say that two differe
sophies are complementary? But as I am concerned he
the concept of philosophy of history, this is not the
pursue topics of this nature.
That the three elements, understood in this way, are
independent of each other can easily be shown by showi
we may believe in any one of them without believin
others. Let us see how this works:

(1) With respect to the independence of purpose and value it


should be obvious that a man might view the course of history
as proceeding towards a goal and thus as serving a purpose but
as having no value, simply because he does not acknowledge
the purpose to be achieved as valuable. He might believe that
the purpose of history, set by Satan, is a state in which man
has become totally corrupt, while at the same time he may
deplore corruption. And he still could be said to believe that
history has a meaning. On the other handand perhaps more
likelysomeone might deny that history has a purpose but still
believe in its value, for instance, because it constantly provides
occasions for developing and exhibiting valuable human qualities,
such as the unflinching bearing of physical pain, fortitude in
misfortune, generosity towards the weak and feeble, etc. Again,
according to the thesis here developed, this would amount to
ascribing some meaning to history.
(2) As for the independence of value and pattern this is like
wise not difficult to establish. For instance, it is possible to
imagine the world as ruled by an evil spirit and hence to deny
value to history, while nevertheless affirming that history has
a pattern, a pattern which manifests the consistency of the
demon's character and intentions. History, then, would still
have a meaning, although the meaning is perverse. But the
opposite of this situation is also conceivable, i.e., the view that
history possesses valueand hence meaningbut has no
pattern. For instance, history may have value because it con
tains a large and overwhelming number of points which are
valuable (again we might think of points of human greatness),
but neither these nor any other points may form a pattern and
history may be quite chaotic.
(3) Lastly, there is the independence of pattern and purpose.
Obviously, non-teleological patterns are possible, and hence it
is possible also to affirm pattern while denying purpose. In fact,

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298 ROLF GRUNER

the view is or was not uncommon that the historical p


as a whole follows a certain pattern (has, for instance
repetitive arrangement) and hence is meaningful, but tha
is no purpose of history, no goal towards which the proc
developing. Alternatively, there is the possibility that hist
a purpose, for instance, a purpose set by God, without
ing any pattern. True, this would not be a very plausib
for normally one would assume that God's purpose is
achieved in consistent stages and hence that history a
a pattern. But though it might be implausible it is cer
not inconsistent or illogical. The whole of human history
be just one single unstructured stroke by means of whic
achieves something, a purpose which bestows mean
history, although we can perhaps form no idea as to its n
Now, assuming that I am right and any two of the
elements are indeed independent, it does not necessarily
that any three of them are. For instance, one might s
a certain combination of two makes the affirmation or n
of the third obligatory. However, although there is n
ment here, I hold that the elements are still indepen
taken in threes. It would be too exhausting to go thro
the eight possible combinations which arise here, and
I shall mention only two or three of the more strikin
The case which most people today have in mind who t
philosophy of history is the case in which all three are aff
history has a purpose, has a value, and has a patter
without doubt, the more popular namesnames like Con
Comte, Hegel or Marxfall in this category, as does the
theory of progress in general. But as I have emphasized b
we should not hereby forget that other possibilities exis
the opposite extreme, the view that history has neither
nor value nor pattern. There is no reason why a man aft
ful deliberation may not come out with such a negative
even if it would be strange if he drew all the practic
quences from it. The fact that the first view is more co
that the second has nothing to do with the logic of the
or the available historical evidence but is due to psych
and historical factors. Between these two extremes th
six other possible cases; for instance, the view that h
has no purpose and value but still has pattern: someon
believe that there is no state towards which history is m
(or has moved) and that evil by far predominates in histo
that there is nevertheless a consistent pattern throu

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SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY 299

According to my thesis such a person would still belie


history has a meaning. This may seem strange, for the e
sion 'the meaning of history' is often used in a way
precludes us from saying that a person who denies val
purpose to history believes in its meaning, whatever else h
affirm. The case is analogous to that of 'the meaning of m
if I am convinced that my life has no positive value
purpose, then I do not believe that it has meaning. The c
I have developed here clearly precludes this usage, an
may be a disadvantage. But if so, it is not a serious one. A
all, one cannot but doubt that there is any alternative
fits common usage exactly. For the phrase 'the mean
history' as ordinarily employed is so vague and can cover
a heterogeneous assembly of things that one will have
regard usage at some point if the matter is to be tidied up
As can be seen from all the above cases, the element of
is of special importance in that its presence or absence g
philosophy of history its specific tone or coloring. To pu
a nutshell, if value is denied we get a view with a pess
accent; if it's affirmed we get a view with an optimistic
Value can enter via purpose; if history has a purpose a
purpose has value, then history has value too. But it ca
value in other ways and independent of purpose, simply b
the individual items to be found in history are of value,
least some of them are, and they carry a greater weight
items which are not, which shows that there is room for
tion and for pronouncements such as that taken by an
history has value.
'History' here means, of course, always as much as 'h
as a whole'; the meaning of history is the meaning of the
course of history; and the purpose, value and pattern of h
are the purpose, value and pattern of the whole histo
process. To accept the view developed in this article is to
the following. If a person is to affirm that history has me
it is necessary and sufficient that he affirms the presence
or all of the three elements. For a person to have a philo
of history he either must affirm that history has meani
he must affirm that history has no meaning. The latter
equivalent to denying meaning but consists in affirmi
absence of any or all of the three elements. In other wor
man who affirms that history is without pattern, witho
pose and without value has a philosophy of history. So ha
man who affirms that pattern, purpose and value are all pr

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300 ROLF GRUNER

as well as the man who affirms the presence of one or


these elements but either is silent on, or affirms the abse
the rest. Conversely, a man who takes no position in
affirms neither the presence nor the absence of any
threebecause he has not considered the matter, or is unable
to judge, or regards the question of meaning as pointless, or for
any other reasonsuch a man and only such a man has no
philosophy of history. Since it is possible to take no position
with regard to some but not all of these elements, it makes
sense to say that someone has a philosophy of history to a
higher (or lesser) degree than someone else. Affirming no more,
for instance, than that history has a pattern is to affirm some
meaning of history. Affirming that it also has purpose and value
is to affirm more meaning of history. No doubt, he who affirms
the presence or absence of three (or two) of the elements is
more committed than he who affirms only the presence or
absence of two (or one). Hence, the first can be said to have
'more'or to have a more completephilosophy of history
than the second. And it is my impression that among the more
reflective part of mankind people without any philosophy of
history are rarely to be found.

UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD

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