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Chiel van den Akker


This essay takes Arthur Danto’s end-of-art thesis as a case in point of a substantive philosophy of history. Such philosophy explains the direction that art has taken and why that direction could not have been different. Danto never scrutinized the philosophy of history that his end-of-art thesis presumes. I aim to do that by drawing a distinction between what I refer to as the common view of history and the philosophical view of history, and by arguing that we need the latter if we want to properly assess the plausibility of the end-of-art thesis.

Jonathan Martineau


This article revisits Edmund Husserl’s philosophy of time in light of the modern standardisation of time. After assessing Husserl’s innovative analysis of the experience of time and raising key issues pertaining to his derivation of objective time from an originary ‘absolute flux of consciousness’, the article addresses potential relationships between this conception of time and the historically unique experience of time based in the rise of modern clock-time. Drawing on insights from the literature within the sociology of time, the article concludes that Husserl’s conception of time both reproduces and rejects certain features of modern time relations.

Bennett Gilbert


The history of ideas is most prominently understood as a highly specialized group of methods for the study of abstract ideas, with both diachronic and synchronic aspects. While theorizing the field has focused on the methods of study, defining the object of study – ideas – has been neglected. But the development of the theories behind material culture studies poses a sharp challenge to these narrow approaches. It both challenges the integrity of the notion of abstract ideas and also offers possibilities for enlarging the scope of the ways in which we can study ideas historically. It is proposed here to regard ideas as mental relations deeply connected to human communication by both thinking and doing. This connection of ideational thought to human production and behavior is a deep foundation for the history of ideas as an interdisciplinary historiographic means of understanding moral life.

Learning from History

The Transformations of the topos historia magistra vitae in Modernity

Christophe Bouton


In this paper, I would like to show that Koselleck’s thesis on the dissolution of the topos historia magistra vitae in modernity is open to certain objections, to the extent that one finds in modernity a number of practical conceptions of history which are “useful for life”. My own thesis is that the topos of history as the “Guide to Life” is not so much dissolved as rather transformed with modernity, and in a sense which has to be specified. This point of view will be defended with reference to European authors of the nineteenth century (I focus on the examples of Droysen and Nietzsche), though I will add some observations on the twentieth century in the last part of the paper.

Daniel Fairbrother


This paper argues for a new version of holism about historiography. The argument starts with an analogy with Aristotle’s conceptions of soul and character. The aim is to overcome the central problem critics have identified in Ankersmit’s holism about historical representations: it is not clear how a posited holistic entity can make a difference to a work of history. The solution offered in this paper is that there are two – modally distinct – dimensions of content in works of history. One comprises its explicit content as given in its statements. This corresponds to actuality, action, and narrative in Aristotle. The other is where we find a holistic entity: a work of history’s representation of a historical situation. This is analysed here as a unified range of possibilities for action generated by the interrelated complex of factors introduced by the work’s explicit contents. This corresponds to potentiality, soul, and character in Aristotle. The theory is further developed in relation to two examples, one idealized, the other an example of real historiography. By distinguishing between actuality and possibility as dimensions of a historical representation, the holistic entity is enabled to be implicit while having real importance in relation to the content of historiography.

Steven G. Smith


A historically responsible agent is willing to be somehow in practical solidarity with all other actors with whom action is shared over time. The responsible idea of a most-inclusive history encompasses future occurrence together with all that has happened already. Despite our lack of control over future developments, we assess possible future ages as bright (if action opportunities are generally greater) or dark (if lesser) and position ourselves as contributors to multigenerational endeavors (such as Burke’s “all science” and “all art”) that we hope will be long-term successes in themselves and part of a larger historical optimality. Informed by the evolutionary sciences, a plausible modern envisioning of the future must include evolutionary innovations and surprises on a very long time scale. The historically responsible agent will therefore take seriously efforts like Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men to imagine the new powers and goals of our distantly posthuman future sharers in history.

Andrew Fiala


There is no grand narrative or master plan for historical progress. Contemporary discussions of progress and enlightenment reflect an improved version of an old debate, which has progressed beyond older debates about metaphysical optimism and pessimism. Responding to recent work by John Gray, Steven Pinker, and others, this paper describes meliorism as a middle path between optimism and pessimism. Meliorism is pragmatic, humanistic, secular, and historically grounded. The epistemic modesty of meliorism develops out of understanding the long history of debates about progress and enlightenment, including the history of meliorism itself. The paper provides a historical account of the development of meliorism, while arguing that understanding this history helps us make progress in thinking about progress.

Jonathan Menezes


For some contemporary historical theorists, the postmodernist movement in history and its nearly unilateral orientation towards language or discourse recently became subject to ‘the law of diminishing returns’ due to shifts in interests of philosophers and theorists of history at this time. Nevertheless, the contributions left by postmodernism in Western historical thought are too noticeable to be denied, even by those who have criticized it in the past. Frank Ankersmit is one of the few theorists that has been on both sides; firstly, he swiftly tied his case to postmodernism, and secondly, he joined those who, then and now, think that postmodernism was nothing more than an irresponsible and irretrievable trend. Hence, the aim of this paper is to explore some of the particularities of Ankersmit’s affair with postmodernism, taking his metaphor of ‘the autumn of historiography’ as an example of the limits of this relationship and its eventual end.