This article posits a pragmatist philosophy of history as exemplified in the work of British Philosopher F.C.S. Schiller (1864–1937). Part of this argument for a pragmatist philosophy of history resides on pragmatism’s key notion of “experience” being presented here as both related to human forces that are operant in history, and the particularly important “temporal” nature within the term, making it also in part “historical.” The goal is to more generally broaden scholarship in pragmatism as both containing important elements of a unique and coherent philosophy of history, and to bring Schiller closer into the academic circle of the history of pragmatist thought.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller (1864–1937) was the first prominent pragmatist on the European continent, but he has yet to gain a great deal of notoriety as a pragmatist philosopher. This is in part perhaps because pragmatism’s timing of expansion in the direction abroad in the first half of the twentieth century was inopportune, given the predominance of fascism, racism, and pessimism that resulted from those historically dark times―initially, in part American pragmatism was perhaps interpreted as simply too optimistic and generally too unfit for the most part for the European climate of the time. Pragmatism, having developed prior to the rise of fascism, was not seen as a viable interpretation or response. Moreover, Schiller himself was a polemical and rebellious figure, as well as a bit convoluted in his writing style, which perhaps further added to his lack of greater recognition. He was also quite restive, never finishing his doctorate because of frustration at the very end over the process of oral examination at Cornell. Nonetheless, he deserves great credit for what he has contributed, work that was always valued by his loyal friend, American Pragmatist William James. And while he labeled his philosophy “Humanism,” it was indeed largely an expansion of a pragmatist venture.
The focus here will be on a pragmatist-styled philosophy of history, as apparent in the case of Schiller, despite major pragmatist thinkers, including himself, rarely directly addressing the topic. This argument stems from the pragmatist emphasis on “experience,” which contains in part a “temporal” element and therefore is at least in part “historical.” The notion of ‘pragmatist truths’ applies directly to what we will call “historical truths”; meaning, these are essentially interchangeable. One of the earliest historians, Polybius (c.198–117 bc) noted the “pragmatic” nature of the need to contemplate and study history, writing that “men have no more ready corrective of conduct than knowledge of the past […]”1 Thus, the value of a philosophy of history, in whichever specific form it may come, cannot be over-appreciated, as so succinctly described about a century earlier by Dionysius of Halicarnassus when he said that “History is philosophy teaching by example.”2
Perhaps closest to a “Schillerian Pragmatist Philosophy of History” would be something akin to Spanish Philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, or German Philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey and a ‘Secular Historicism,’ for example, in its objective to have a purely ‘scientific epistemological foundation,’ as well as how it is rooted in being largely contextual and perspectival, and as such, to a certain extent relativistic. But as there is also an emphasis on making this specific discipline of historical study more scientific, there is a goal as well of getting toward some form of universality or ideally some universal approximations to truths. With a relativist position, of course we run the danger of putting all into question; thus, a more apt goal is to find something useful in history, such as something we can apply to the future (hence a pragmatist-styled philosophy of history). Schiller’s philosophy of history is also arguably in part Hegelian, because society does play a role in how people are defined by their history, and in how there are some teleological expectations. However, Schiller at times was also quite individualist, and his teleological view was quite different from Hegel’s, so we certainly cannot call it a fully Hegelian style historicism either.3 In a more classical historicism, efforts are focused on the discovery of a generalized filter for the human forces that are operant in history, rather than just a sort of listing of historical details singularly. Further representative of such a historicist viewpoint is the goal of prediction; a study of history should help better prepare us for the future, which is an element of a classic historicism that thus clearly overlaps with a pragmatist-styled philosophy of history. There are many ways in which we can categorize the studies of history and philosophy, and how they overlap (such as analytic or critical philosophy of history, secular historicism, philosophy of historiography, etcetera). Moreover, the difference between a philosophy and a theory of history should be considered here as a possible distinguishing factor in a Schillerian perspective, which would be more scientific with the goal to go beyond just listing historical details and develop a more systematic study and interpretation of history. We might also consider labeling this a philosophy of historiography, but whichever the specific emphasis, the objective of a general pragmatist-styled study of history would be to find the useful.
There are undoubtedly some historicist elements as we will see in Schiller’s philosophy of history in the focus on contemplating how human forces, patterns, or rhythms function exactly in history, with historical prediction being the principal objective. As we know, there have been many directions that historicism has taken, and the terminology can confuse, so the title here will be explicitly of a “Schillerian Pragmatist Philosophy of History” as an example of a larger category of a “Pragmatist Philosophy of History.” Thus, this is clearly one that is a largely pragmatist-infused version, albeit still retaining some unique elements. In this we can arguably interchange his notions on the “truth” for “historical truth.” Part of the task, therefore, is to define a Schillerian historical truth based on his broader notions of the truth, as well as apply the pragmatist notion of “experience” here. In sum, what will be discussed here is both a philosophy of history and a philosophy of historiography, as specifically Schiller’s Pragmatist Philosophy of History.
2 A Pragmatist Philosophy of History
That there is a philosophy of history inherent in pragmatism is certainly less frequently addressed than other elements in the philosophical tradition. But there are some important areas of study on this, such as the research of Colin Koopman. In 2009 Koopman published Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty, in which he expounds on a central thesis that pragmatism is very much founded on what he terms “transitionalism,” within which he includes the defining concept of “temporal structures and historical shapes.” Key are the concepts of “temporality” and “historicity” in pragmatism in his thesis. He divides pragmatist thinking in “three waves.” Particularly interesting for this paper’s discussion is the third, which is what Koopman himself wants to propose: that of “Pragmatism as transitionalism” in which time and history are central.
Koopman clearly argues here in support of this paper’s objective that pragmatism, in a general sense, is inherently quite historicist in its own way, even though it is not generally considered a predominantly historicist-infused philosophy of course. Nor are any of its main philosophers much invested in the philosophy of history or historicism in any specific form, at least not directly or explicitly. As he summarized it,
Historicism is in these three ways a central element in the pragmatist temperament. Yet despite these obvious ways in which pragmatism lends itself to a historicist way of thinking, this aspect of pragmatism is rarely given sufficient attention by commentators and philosophers today. […] pragmatists can do their work better as pragmatists if they pay more attention to the historicist themes central to their own way of thinking.6
One of the fundamental reasons we can arguably consider pragmatism to have a philosophy of history within is for the emphasis placed on experience. As Koopman argues, this is because experience (which many pragmatists generally share a version of the anti-dualistic notion that ‘what we think we know, what we think is real, what we think is true; what we think, in general, is what we experience it to be’) is itself naturally historical in condition, root, meaning, and understanding. “Experience is not a thing, it is an event or a process,” Koopman proposes. “Experience happens, takes place, is temporally shot through. Experience is not a presence with its own substantial identity―it is rather wholly constituted by its relations to past and future.”8 Experience is a continuum, as is history―history is not just the past, just as experience is not just the past or the present; both are past, present, and future.
Pragmatists understand things as historically situated and temporally conditioned. […] pragmatists theorize concepts such as truth and meaning in ways that prioritize historical context in our ascriptions of truth and interpretations of meaning. Another way of stating this point is as a kind of sociological observation: pragmatists are often described as attempting to reconstruct philosophy in light of evolutionary theory’s emphasis upon contingent change, and this results in a thoroughgoing philosophical historicism.7
This notion of a “Pragmatist Philosophy of History” must be explored further. Many of the following elements of this are not uniquely associated solely with a study of Schiller of course, but they serve as further evidence of an additional pragmatist who has developed elements of a genuine Pragmatist Philosophy of History. Thus, a signal insight here is to provide further examples of pragmatist figures who have a foundation for a philosophy of history, narrowing in on one who unjustifiably lacks further scholarship (however, that said, analyses on this as it is applicable to Dewey and James are also quite relevant and warranted). In this pragmatist interpretation, then, we exist along a continuum in which we are simultaneously always the present meeting of the past and the future, but always in movement forward since the present is fleeting―but we should add here that what is most tangible in any given moment is the past. This of course is not a novel conclusion, having been extensively explored, Hume being a clear example, among many others. As we know, a forward-focused orientation is very much a part of pragmatism in general. But since the future cannot be entirely predicted, what we do always have, therefore, is the past, as it is again more ‘accessible’ and ‘tangible’ we could say in terms of ability to investigate and study. In each moment, we are the present that has been shaped by the past while being focused on the future. Yet each present becomes past almost as quickly as we label it “current.” We should not deny a historicist element in pragmatism just for its instrumentalist and functionalist emphases, as part of historicist philosophizing, for example, is precisely to fulfill the aim of a historical prediction even though it is through a study of the past.
Pragmatic historicism, therefore, stresses particularity without isolation, individuality, and uniqueness of time and place without assumptions of disconnection. And, perhaps most importantly, it extends the network of relations within which humans reside to include nature as a central component of such context.10
3 The Pragmatist Continuum
Our lives, our realities―this all exists on a continuum. Schiller argued that everything falls upon a continuum in which there are fixed points representing the past, present, and future, which is what at all times makes up our “natures,” “realities,” “worlds,” etcetera. We are ‘continuums’ for Schiller, and the past, or history, is part of that continuum. He writes, “Man is but a transitory term in an infinite series of necessitated events which recedes into the past, and portends its extension into the future, without end; so that at no point can any independence or initiative be ascribed to him.”11 This creates our nature and this influences our selves. Our nature is change, and the course of those changes creates a history; as he writes in “The Metaphysics of Change,” “[…] the real always has a history which it behooves us to remember, and that everything is what it is in virtue of what it has been through. It suggests the thought of a world-drama and a cosmic history.”12
In another instance, he argues, “[…] the essential elements of our nature can never be composed by beings subjected to the material world of Time and Space. It is impossible to compromise the claims of the future with the desires of the present, impossible also to cast off the fetters of the past.”13 In this last point, we find further evidence of the importance Schiller places on history, noting that it is always present, even though most frequently he appears to emphasize the forward, future-focused orientation, staying thus true to pragmatist fashion. But this of course is intuitive; what use is the past (since it is gone and done with) if it cannot help us later in the future, or help explain our present? The past is always with us, like the mud on our shoes carried with us over the trail of tracks we create. Yes, it is true that additional rain may come wash those footprints away, but they were once made, and they tell the story of our path, while we can study it at least—we should work diligently, therefore, to try to capture this history as much and as accurately as we can.
Perhaps some of the lack of scholarship and “distaste” associated with Schiller is because of the eugenically-minded leanings he promoted at times in his work in regard to his views on what this “better future” would be entailed of that we can come to envision through a study of the past (the timing of course being relevant for such beliefs being both prevalent and for the same reasons of great distaste, eventually creating a conflict that exploded into war). This is important to note given the direct relevance of the historical context behind Schiller’s life and writings, having died only two years prior to the start of the Second World War when eugenics manifested itself in the most extreme and violent form ever witnessed in human history. Given this paper’s topic, it of course would be very much warranted to reference and analyze each historical circumstance behind each point in Schiller’s intellectual development referenced; so, a brief discussion must be addressed here.
We must take both perspectives, in his argument, that humans have humble origins, and the ape is also not so humble because of the potential to be human. Just the same, historical study should be bilateral—and we must avoid the risk of any eugenic direction with this, of course. As he continues;
The theory of Evolution yields also a positive enrichment of our logical methods. For it supports and sanctions the use of the Historical Method as a method of explanation, and encourages us to apply it to all things. […] Mere history is not enough; but then the Historical Method is never restricted to mere history. The knowledge it appeals to is never “mere,” nor are its facts ever “bare.” When it discovers facts it is always in a rich historical setting, and its history is always more than a mere sequence of uncomprehended events.14
The goal in analyzing Schiller’s instrumentalism and functionalism is not to fully reveal what his vision was for his “ideal future,” but rather to consider only the “pragmatist future” in regards to its utility and usefulness in a broad sense; meaning, the notion that any predictive capabilities we can strengthen would of course be invaluable for humanity, and part of the project being proposed here as to how to develop that further is through a pragmatist philosophy of history and a pragmatist-based methodology for the study of history.
In short, the Historical Method places at our disposal an enormous mass of relevant data on which to form our judgment, instead of merely confronting us with a cross-section of what may be merely a momentary and ephemeral present state. Should we not all prefer the diagnosis of a physician who has known us from childhood and is familiar with our constitution to that of a stranger who has merely taken the actual temperature from which we are suffering?
Lastly, it should be borne in mind that if the real is not static but is in continuous process, only prolonged historical observation will do justice to its nature. Only a historical method will enable us to trace out its past, to understand its present, and to forecast its future. So I repeat, the real is what it is, not by the eternal accident of some immutable reality, but in virtue of what it has been through in a time process. And therefore, in reflecting on man’s past, it may be wiser not to adopt the merely historical attitude which values history for its own sake, but to try to extract from it some scientific foresight of human prospects.15
Are we nothing without our history? We know that from a more empiricist-minded viewpoint, the answer is perhaps. The safest answer is to turn this in the refined question of how much, exactly; to what extent does the past shapes our selves as well as our ontological and epistemological interpretations of everything? In other words, certainly our pasts have made and shaped us, but just how much? Our histories are our current reality; we live in a present shaped by our past and focused on looking forward to how that all applies in the future, prepares us for the future, teaches us, to cite a few key repercussions.
It is only from a knowledge of the tendencies of things in the past that we are able to predict their future: it is by the study of what has been that we discover what is to be, both in the sense of what is about to, and of what ought to. […] it is only by a careful study of the history of a thing that we can determine the direction of its development, and discover the general principle which formulates its evolution.17
4 Pragmatist Anti-dualism
There is of course some idealism in this earlier work of Schiller’s that he would later shed, but the anti-dualistic point here remains to be extracted and argued that the past cannot be understood without the future (or the present, but we can understand the present as the convergence of the past and future, though again in an ephemeral sense), but they are separate elements (hence anti-dualistic). To understand any one thing, we need to analyze its causes (history), its significance and its purpose (present and future, respectively). Thus, history does indeed have a role in Schiller’s philosophy, but again in that it falls along a continuum in which the past is anti-dualistically interdependent with the other points along that continuum as a ‘whole’ (plainly stated, by ‘whole’ what is meant is the overarching concept of a continuum itself as a sum of points, but really it has no specifically defined start or end, as it is composed of the specific points we define it as having); present and future included, therefore. There is perhaps in this a sort of compromise of realist and anti-realist views on epistemology and ontology.
[…] take the old puzzle which really involves the whole question of philosophic method, though historically the egg comes before the chicken, it is yet an egg only in virtue of its potentiality to become a chicken; the egg exists in order to the development of the chicken out of it. Or, to put it into modern phraseology, the lower is prior to the higher historically, but the higher is prior metaphysically, because the lower can be understood only by reference to the higher, which gives it a meaning and of which it is the potentiality.18
As noted, this predictive function in Schiller’s philosophy regrettably does later relate in part to some eugenic-imbued leanings, given his view that evolution plays a part in this teleological vision of his; “[…] there is an evolution, a real progress, a real process in time, about the direction and meaning of which we can discover much by the historical method,” and in which he concludes with the teleological justification in this in what follows; “and which so turns out to be something more than a struggle leading anywhere or nowhere […] and which will ultimately justify the teleology.”19 A “philosophy of history” that is concerned primarily with the judging of aims and ends of human direction and “progress” by necessity is also teleological. Further, this leaning on evolutionism also signaled in part a general departure from British Absolute Idealism and any dependence on an a posteriori being, knowledge, or approximations to truth, to then accept a priori possibility here. But as he continues from this same article, what is most important for the purposes here is that “we incontestably do learn from history,” argued Schiller, “though it may be owing to what we add to history ― and the past tendencies of things often guide us to predict their future.”20
5 History and Nature
For Schiller, perhaps we can interpret him here to say, therefore, that part of any fundamental “nature” of a human being is his or her history. There is indeed a historicity of life. Schiller wrote, “[…] history had a meaning, and was capable of rational formulation. But we may now go a step further and assert that the conception of the world as an evolution is the conception of the world as a process.”21 History, for Schiller, is process and evolution since it exists along a continuum. Life, the world, is plastic, because reality is always a becoming, also being in part dependent on the future; thus, each “reality,” and each “present” is plastic. But it is a becoming toward a teleological end in his view, and an elaborated description of this is missing from Schiller’s work. Nonetheless, we can conclude again that history; historical constructions and interpretations, are plastic as well, also because they are in themselves historical (i.e., dependent on time, circumstance, tradition, etcetera). Concisely phrased, History is historical; there is a layer of meta-history and a necessary meta-historical-philosophical reading that must be included in analysis. A philosophy of history must always contain a philosophical interpretation of history (though the vice-versa is not necessarily the case).
This is key in understanding, therefore, part of how we should view and study history; as a continuum of set points, and of which we should gather as many as possible to better interpret history and to better prepare us for the future. Note here that the key idea is ‘as many as possible,’ because we may never be able to assemble them all together. While the direction of the process of history, evolution, can be malleable, the “points” along the continuum in the past are fixed; they are past and finite in and of themselves (again it is the end, or future, that is plastic per Schiller―but these points can also be studied as a continuous flowing temporal notion connected with our past and future because the points along this temporal line of the pasts really have this double character; it is anti-dualistic in being both done and everlasting into the present convergence and futures). Our nature, our lives, and our selves exist in the same way; along a continuum. We are our histories. It is also important to remember in all this that we cannot completely predict the future of course, but we can improve our ability to foresee some details, perhaps, when we study and then use what we learn from the past, or history, to create better futures. In pragmatist anti-dualism, ultimately what we can determine are just “warranted assertions,” to use Dewey’s term here, as there is more of an anti-realist notion in this inability to know for certain when this anti-dualist overlap is accurate and correct. A philosophical or otherwise interpretation of history will, therefore, always be a tenuous one.
In saying, therefore, that the world is evolving, we say that it is in process, i.e., it is becoming something determinate out of something determinate. […] Hence, if the conception of a process involves two ideal fixed points, then if we assert the process to be a real one, its fixed points must also be real fixed points in the history of the world. […] the world-process is a determinate Becoming, proceeding from one fixed point or beginning to another fixed point or end, and that all the events which take place within it are susceptible of having their places in that process assigned to them as members of a series, and with reference to those fixed points. In other words, all things are susceptible of explanation from the point of view of the end of that process, as tending towards, or aiming at that end.22
6 Historical Method and Historiography
When studying history, the further back the history, logically, the less the certainty. History should be approached in its “entirety” (“entirety” meaning gathering as much along the continuum as possible, but again not literally all simply because that is not possible). Human beings, life, history, is therefore all unstable and in a process of continual progress when remembering this key focus on the future and all essentially existing in perpetuity. We use history and historical study to try to at least better and with more profound and exhaustive historical study create possible predictions of the future. Hence why we progress as malleable and historical beings.
Here again there clearly is a stress on being future-oriented in Schiller’s thought, but this in the first place requires historical study. As the following excerpt illustrates, once more Schiller does recognize the importance of historical study, despite his also very forward-looking, teleological, functionalist, and instrumentalist view.24 As with the chicken and the egg metaphor, we somewhat need to understand this all as separate but connected inextricably, because “the teleological method just reverses the order of historical explanation” as Schiller argues,25
The past is dead and done with, practically speaking; its deeds have hardened into facts, which are accepted, with or without enthusiasm; what it really concerns us to know is how to act with a view to the future. And so like life, and as befits a theory of human life, Pragmatism faces towards the future.23
What is this “perfection” he speaks of? Schiller says that we and the world are finite, headed toward a teleological end of individuals perfectly harmonized themselves as well as among each other and in our environment within a society. This is where history is heading. History, therefore, is teleological in this specific “Schillerian” sense and needs to be inserted here, therefore, as part of his philosophy of history. Schiller’s philosophy of history is one that is social, but with the specific aim toward the creation of ‘social individuals,’ signaling a departure from what initially sounds like a Hegelian historicism, but then turning toward the individual instead. This can certainly resound with a Deweyan or Rortyan reading here. But this is about as specific as he is in describing and defining his vision of a teleological end in his earlier works;
[…] the development of the individual in society. […] Evolution is the process of the gradual perfectioning of the individual in society, its purpose and its meaning must be the adaptation of the individual to the social environment. The ultimate aim, therefore, of the world-process is a harmonious society of perfect individuals.26
As Schiller also posits in regard to the end of the ‘world-process’ or perfection; “approximations to it are infinite, and hence it will never be reached.” But the more perspectives we gather, the closer we get to accuracy, and in continuing with Schiller’s thought process, the closer we get to “perfection.” This certainly does connect to pragmatist notions on the truth, which we can simply add “historical” truths in that again at best we find only approximations. As we know, this notion of “justified,” “approximate,” or “warranted” (Dewey’s term) truths, or again we can add “historical truths,” is common in pragmatist thought. In his 1924 work Problems of Belief, Schiller very clearly describes this view on the discipline of history:
[…] the world-process will come to an end when all the spirits whom it is designed to harmonize have been united in a perfect society. […] when the individual has become a perfect individual, and has been developed to the utmost of his powers, and is in perfect harmony and completely adapted to the whole of his environment.27
Still, despite the apparent individualism in Schiller’s thought, he also emphasizes the importance of the social element; the “environment,” as he is not purely an individualist. In one of his many later (some posthumous) articles that appeared in the journal The Personalist, Schiller provides a very clear description of this from “The Relativity of Metaphysics”:
The subject of History lends itself to the systematic manufacture of dishonest belief. For every historical narrative is necessarily selective of its raw material, and imposes on it an order which is relative to the beliefs, bias, and purpose of the historian. […] If the historian aims at impartiality, he is in danger of lapsing into indifference; if he has a bias, it is most dangerous when it is unavowed, and perhaps even unconscious.28
Steven Mailloux offers a great explanation for how this works in connecting this to rhetorical studies and specifically Protagorean sophistry, given Schiller’s great reliance on Protagorean philosophy; since truth claims are relative and dependent in part on social recognition, he writes,
[…] to start with subjective truths does not condemn us to end with them. It only means that we should trace out the interesting process of mutual exchanges and adjustments by which the mind gets to know its world, and by which the common truths that get social recognition are segregated from the personal truths of immediate experience that remain individual and incommunicable. We can thus observe the growth of the objective out of the subjective until we reach the common world of common-sense, and understand its working.29
And as noted, as especially important for this paper’s purposes, it is the historical community as phrased here that provides that recognition for a truth to be “useful” in the pragmatist sense. For Schiller, “historicity” as we know is a form of teleological evolution toward helping us create better futures of perfectly harmonized individuals, and this is its summarized practical utility;
Schiller explains how the two usages [truth as claim and truth as validity] are rhetorically related: a truth-claim is made from a particular position and then it is either refuted or sustained as valid in a particular historical community. Though Schiller usually gives this rhetorical process more of an individual slant, his account always makes clear the social situatedness of the truth-establishing process, arguing that individual truth-claims struggle to receive social recognition, and they do so successfully when the rhetor’s audience finds the claims useful.30
Here Schiller clearly claims that we have historicity and it is fundamental―it indeed seems here that we really, truly are nothing without our histories. For Schiller, as Mark Porrovecchio, the author who has written the most comprehensive biography on Schiller, cites,
[…] it will be from a study of history that we shall see the drift of that process, and if that process should admit of, or demand, teleological interpretation, we shall thus be enabled to forecast its end, and to anticipate its future, sufficiently for our purposes, even though the whole nature of a thing could only be fully expressed in its whole history. The attempt, on the other hand, to determine the validity of a thing apart from its history and prospects would seem sheer folly.31
[…] every age demands a new history of the past. "But to what end a past picture for a philosopher with a forward-thinking program? A “practical desire for guidance which inspires our interest in the future, as in the past.” […] All history is aided by what we recall and how we articulate it. The question is not how true the tales are, but whether they will prove useful.32
7 Historical Truths and Limited Freedom
Our historical interpretations are historical as well and dependent upon previous history and previous historical studies, as well as the “present history”. This is indeed logical and obvious, but often overlooked, nonetheless. This we can assume can be applied when considering the following quote from Schiller on the truth; “We avowed that our truths were made out of previous truths, and built upon pre-existing knowledge; also that our procedure involved an initial recognition of fact.”33 Previous truths imply previous time, or history, and this is also because truth is dependent on experience, and experiences are, logically, accumulated over the past, or history, in creating our perpetuating continuums. (So, truth is historical as well, and truths could refer to the history that has been recorded in the past, or our beliefs of what are the “truths” about the past.) “Truth” is historical; the practicality and utility of an accepted truth is corroborated over history. Truths depend on the past, so they are historical (this is an inherent characteristic of truths in and of themselves), and this is a sub-category that exists and perpetuates in the same form as a “historical truth.”
Again, while realistically there are many different types of truths, since the pragmatist definition of the truth can essentially encompass all of them, included here is the sub-type of “historical truth.” Once more we can understand this via Mailloux’s connection to Protagorean sophistry; “Schiller sees nothing paradoxical in this Protagorean sophistry, for assertions can all be relatively true but still not equally valuable or socially validated,” because, as presented here, historical communities play part of the role in justifying and validating historical truths, in a linguistic and hermeneutic sense as well.34
Schiller posited, “we can confidently lay it down that no event will ever occur which will not seem intelligently connected with its antecedents after it [has] happened.”35 History does not repeat itself because the individual is juxtaposed with the social in ways that are both unique in some and yet universal in others. Further, again the pragmatist conception of “experience” is central here; experiences accumulate over time along this continuum that is our lives, reality, etcetera; our histories. “All our experience is in time,” writes Schiller.36 Again, history is a source of “guidance for the future,” as well as a source of “causes operative in bringing about the historical processes,” to use Schiller’s own words as quoted in Porrovecchio, who adds the further explanation that “The Historical Method is not merely a matter of laying out all the details in chronological row. For facts never simply are and are never simply enough”37—the key part in this of a methodology of history here is that we need try to gather as many points along this continuum as possible, as a starting point.
Although Schiller sees this continuum to have a teleological end in his pragmatist philosophy of history, he also, somewhat paradoxically again argues that this does not necessarily “condemn” us only to a type of “determinism,” nevertheless. He avoids a clear contradiction here by not explicitly defining that end. This is in part because as we saw, there is oddly no real end defined, and because in Schiller’s philosophy there is an emphasis at times on individuality and individual choice, as we have a “limited freedom” or “soft determinism.” Our lives, and therefore our histories (history in general really), are not condemned to determinism because we have the power of choice, to phrase this plainly, though the options to choose from may be limited (there is perhaps some Kantian resonation here). Our freedom comes in the form of choice, and the different choices we make shape our lives, and/or our histories, differently; “there will be alternative courses of history, and a real indetermination in a universe which harbours a free agent.”38
Why is the individual so important above the social milieu in this soft determinism? The answer is because “individuals are infinitely different,” declared Schiller, so our perspectives, interests, and considerations of values and usefulness of anything, including historical truths, can also be infinitely combined (and which is also why we can only reach approximations of truths)―‘established truths’ are “made in historical times.”41 This is only initially; at the start of the process of valuation. Thus, the following is how a truth is made (or what we can assume he would probably argue for how a historical truth is basically made):
[…] there may be as many more potential realities, unreal at present, but capable of being brought into existence by our efforts. […] reality is still in the making. Nothing is absolutely settled. Human operations are real experiments with a reality that really responds, and may respond differently to different manipulations. […] Thus our actual experience contains literally infinite possibilities of alternate universes, which struggle for existence in the minds of every agent who is capable, in however limited a degree, of choosing between alternatives.40
For man is a social being, and truth indubitably is to a large extent a social product. For even though every truth may start in a minority of one, its hold upon existence is exceedingly precarious, unless it can contrive to get itself more extensively appreciated. […] Truth, then, to be really safe, has to be more than an individual valuation; it has to win social recognition, to transform itself into common property.42
8 History and Its Relationship to the Self
We return thus to this notion that history does not repeat itself, as the colloquial expression is phrased, as Schiller wrote; “The expectation that history will repeat itself seems destined to frequent disappointments.”44 Thus, what we can find is a sort of ‘trend(s) of trend(s),’ but not exact replications. And “if history is selective,” as Porrovecchio concisely explains in reference to Schiller’s views on this, “it is because it is individual. If the individual is to be effective, it is because the selection accord with the most useful social needs.”45 Here again we have this dual functionality of both the social and individual role in defining historical truths (there is clearly some confirmation bias in this), or at least approximations to them. For Schiller, then, a crucial part of the methodology for the study of history, therefore, is to consider how it is written, in part, from a ‘useful point of view,’ both individually and socially, in this pragmatist sense, and not necessarily as much, in the anti-realist sense about how truthful it might possibly be in and of itself. There is history, and then there is what we think history is, and the two are connected anti-dualistically without our ever being able to know for sure if they coincide, because what we do know is how it is all viewed from an individual and social ‘useful’ perspective (including perhaps what is useful to us, what is useful to the individual historian, what is useful to the historical time in which a history is being recorded, as well as the social and historical community of that time, etcetera). “All history is aided by what we recall and how we articulate it” explains Porrovecchio on Schiller, “[…] the question is not how true the tales are, but whether they will prove useful”46—this is a pragmatist philosophy of history, tersely summarized, which is why this quote must be repeated. History is, pragmatically-speaking, what we think and experience it to be, and thus at times history books will tell us more about the author(s) and the historical circumstances of the time of preparation and publication, more so than the historical details in and of themselves.
[…] the great events in history are utterly unique, and turn the course of things so thoroughly that they need never be repeated. […] Hence the teleological and anti-teleological interpretations of events will never decide their conflict by appealing to the facts: for in the facts each finds what it wills and comes prepared to see.43
Therefore, historical conclusions are inferences, a “filling in the gaps” because that selective and biased lens will always make historical interpretation, in an ontological sense, pluralist—there is no end to inquiry. In Plato or Protagoras, written in the middle of his other works published during his life, he uses the very applicable example here of Socrates, given we have no certain word of his own to work from, and thus we most often we go to the secondary word of Plato:
[…] there may be as many more potential realities, unreal at present, but capable of being brought into existence by our efforts. […] reality is still in the making. Nothing is absolutely settled. Human operations are real experiments with a reality that really responds, and may respond differently to different manipulations. […] Thus our actual experience contains literally infinite possibilities of alternate universes, which struggle for existence in the minds of every agent who is capable, in however limited a degree, of choosing between alternatives.49
How many are inclined to read Aristotle’s “History of Elephants” before all his other work? To be fair, of course part of its difficulty may be rooted in the cumbersome nature of reading lecture notes, but still, there must be a use beyond just the material itself as to how it will be received and used in the greater community at large. It is the memory of the greater public that is most enduring, but of course selective as well, along with the biases of the individual historian. The larger the accumulated memory, the more indelible and permanent the imprint and life of that perspective.
It is true that by the irony of history the spiritual heritage of one of them soon became a valuable asset, to be disputed over by the philosophic schools of the fourth century, and that so in the end Socrates has become for history what it suited the interest of the strongest, i.e., of the greatest writer, that he should appear. Plato has made our ‘Socrates’ into an intellectualist like himself. But this is manifestly one-sided. The teaching of the real Socrates must have been such as to inspire not only Plato, but also Xenophon, and Aristippus, and Antisthenes. He cannot, therefore, have been the beau idéal of intellectualistic idealism Plato makes him out to be.50
Thus, while the term “history” is not always used, when discussing realities or truths, this, nonetheless, can be in reference to historical realities and historical truths as well. Schiller further writes, “Thus it is our duty and our privilege to co-operate in the shaping of the world; among infinite possibilities to select and realize the best.”51 We co-operate in seeing, creating, recording, and interpreting history; human perspective is a key part of history. And history can be re-written; it is certainly not set in stone, as all we must do is look back in history itself for examples. As we know, there are many “histories of Ancient Greece” that have been written over the centuries, and some of which have varied greatly. “To sum up,” theorizes Schiller, “our Freedom is really such as it appears; it consists in the determinable indetermination of a nature which is plastic, incomplete, and still evolving.”52
Although Schiller argues for a reducibility to the “self,” again as noted there is still an important social element for Schiller as well because he recognizes that the self is not isolated. As Porrovecchio proposes on this, “Even if the ‘individual’ is not always the isolated self, it is a ‘hypothesis and an ideal, as well as a characteristic of reality.’”53 We are individualist social beings. This is perhaps one of the reasons that Schiller can argue for what seems to be counter-intuitive at first glance of an undefinable teleology, individualism being most incompatible with an end in history, versus a group of people, on the other hand, possibly having some sort of direction as an essence, or social force perhaps. The individual is in this sense, after its core formation, comprised of social relationships. It is important to recognize the power of the individual, nonetheless, as it a starting point for our perspectives. And this is key for the purposes here because again the more “perspectives” that we can accumulate while studying history, the better, as these are part of those “fixed points” along historical continuums. Referencing Mailloux here again, perhaps it begins at least sometimes, in part, in individual perspective and is then subsequently corroborated in social perspectives because “Truth-claims are relative to persons, and different persons might thus understandably make different arguments about the same topic.”54
Schiller argued, “The results of our past thought enter into and transform our immediate perceptions and render them more adequate as guides to action.”55 Again, history is always in a state of evolution along a continuum in which it itself sometimes changes during this process, and this again also means that history can neither be captured nor recorded completely; in its entirety, or wholly accurately. History is ‘interpretation, it is tentative, and it is conjectural,’ and in turn can only be captured in “snippets,” proclaimed Schiller as well.56 “Snippets” is indeed an effective image to use here as we have laid out a continuum without specific starting or finishing points.
9 A Pragmatist Methodology for Historical Study
How we study history is itself historical because it is subject to how we were trained and conditioned at that (historical) point in time to think of it and to interpret it. History is historical. Historical records may at times tell us more about what people thought history was, meant, what was important, etcetera, at that time of our recording, rather than the history in and of itself. And we can never incorporate all the possible views, perspectives, pieces, details, etcetera of any historical moment of what those people of that time even thought was important and meaningful to record. History is a puzzle that has virtually infinite pieces and our goal is to put as much of it together as we can, but we may very well never be able to complete the entire puzzle. This important point Schiller expounds in his essay “Plato and his Predecessors,” as Plato and how he has been read and understood over time is again a good example of this, since it has changed, and it has changed in part depending on the historical moment. As Spanish Philosopher José Ortega y Gasset or German Philosopher Hans Gadamer elaborate on in a related way, most fundamentally, interpretation is historical. Interpretation, such as our cultural biases, are embedded in a historical moment. Thus, our readings of Plato have depended on our histories of the time. Interpretation, historical study, therefore, is also historical; interpretation and historical study is embedded in a historical moment—this is a meta-philosophy of history.
Schiller also emphasizes the need for science and history to work together, but what he means is more scientific, not completely, entirely scientific of course. This is a useful goal for the methodology of historical study. As Porrovecchio explains here, while citing Schiller, he does see how history and historical study is a central starting point for further study, and he also argues that it should aim to be more scientific;
What can be done to cross this seeming impasse? The first thing is to recognize that almost all knowledge is, in fact and origin, historical. Even if events do not repeat themselves, events occur so as to establish a higher degree of probability that a law is either (more probably) true or in need of revision; in short, historical events can lend themselves to better attempts at prediction.58
But what is not mentioned in this excerpt is that ultimately that verification is provided by historical time. History is what fundamentally corroborates the “fact” of something within a community, or a society, because it must by necessity happen over time—over the course of history. History is, after all, most basically the passage of time and collection of events. And while no specific methodological steps are mentioned in Schiller’s writing in this more scientific endeavor, there is hope of establishing this at some point. What we can do is keep these limitations at the forefront as we begin historical study, since claiming relativism leads to the dilemma of inaccuracy in judgment. In the following excerpt, we can assume that “historical truth” could be inserted for “truth,” and “time” could also imply “historical moment,” to maintain the same argument, as he writes in “Truthseekers and Soothsayers”:
Hence, science is a matter of “prediction and control,” and history’s purpose is to provide “the power over things that comes from knowledge of the past”; thus both “minister to the need of controlling a reality that kills us if we don’t.” Both, then, must cooperate with each other in understanding the past and working to predict the future. […] For if science is to have a basis, it must be in historical record. But it is no less true that the past is not pure. “Its history is only a hypothetical reconstruction, often highly imaginative, out of utterly inadequate materials.” Schiller sides with science in the end. In searching toward a definitive, it grasps the threads of the historical past and does what history cannot: experiments. “Hence verification is a much more potent weapon in Science than in history” though no verification is to be taken as absolutely true. For Schiller, then, science and history are partial reconstructions; the former just happens to be on firmer ground than the latter.59
Since Schiller tends to choose his own terms for concepts (as his use of the term “Humanism” replacing “Pragmatism”, despite his very pragmatist basis), perhaps as such we should propose that an alternate term for his pragmatist philosophy of history would be his “Evolutionism,” or “the study of evolution;”
Nor can it [the truth] be eternal, or independent of the time-context which generates it. It is always relative to the state of knowledge at the time when it is enunciated, and it always looks to further confirmation. So it always implies a forward-looking attitude of mind, and a reference to a future in which it may receive further verification, and which may enhance its value.
Nor again can truth be one. It must be relative to times and places and persons and purposes. To ask what is the truth is just as absurd a facon de parler as asking what is the time […]
The truth in point of fact is always a truth relative to the place where and time when, it is pronounced. It is a truth relative to its asserter and to his listeners, to the purposes of both, to their problems, and to their state of mind. “True” is always true-for, just as “good” is good-for. The notion that truth can be “absolute” and independent of its occurrence and its use, seems fantastically to ignore every item of its genesis and of its actual function.60
Schiller’s evolutionism, or what we might want to call a “Schillerian evolutionism for a philosophy of history” or a “Schillerian evolutionist philosophy of history” for this paper’s purposes is in part this teleological vision of perfectly harmonized individuals. The disadvantage to this, however, is detracting from the over-arching goal to define an explicitly pragmatist philosophy of history, as witnessed by various examples, such as has been elaborated here in the case of Schiller.
[…] nowadays we can as little dispense with the explanation of things by their history as with their explanation by universal ‘laws.’ […] And if we regard the fact that there is a development of the world in Time as the essence of Evolution, it is obvious that only a theory which accepts this Time-process as an ultimate datum will be capable of yielding a philosophy of Evolution and is worthy of the name Evolutionism (1903, 107–8).
Thus, to summarize and conclude the methodological pieces established here for a pragmatist philosophy of history vis-à-vis Schiller: first, we must conclude that history has the broad “teleological” objective to create better futures. Second, we must always remember that history is selective, subjective, individual yet also social, and varies based on choices, because we each individually and socially live within a limited freedom to have, to a certain extent, an influence over the course of history. Third, history can of course never be fully, completely, or entirely accurately recorded because it depends on what is useful to record at that time (not to mention that “usefulness” will vary based on the individual, the society of the time, the traditions of the time; the history of the times, to note a few key factors, because the usefulness is historical as well), which is why again history is historical. Fourth, history is a continuum, history is evolution, and therefore history is historical. And finally, fifth, there is the objective to make historical study more scientific. While these are quite broad methodological standards, they can certainly be applied to improve the discipline of history, at the very least, because it again remains in a state of becoming, as even those more obvious concluding arguments are at times overlooked. Our lives, history, historical study―this is all in a process of becoming and is therefore incomplete. Hence, our study here, and the philosophy of history in general, is no exception and should be viewed as such; as unfinished and therefore, hopefully, in a process of continual improvement.
As there is less study on any inherent elements in pragmatism of a philosophy of history, as opposed to other areas, this paper has had quite the challenging objective, and even more so in the effort to apply the example of Schiller, who like other pragmatists did not write much on this topic directly. But again, hopefully these areas will continue to be studied, nonetheless, as it has been established at least that there is some reason to do so.61 History, as a study of humanity, cannot be overvalued, so neither should philosophy of history and methodologies for the study of history to better understand what it means, how it is recorded, and how it should be studied. History itself, as well as its study and the philosophy of it in a meta-historical-philosophical sense, exists along a continuum, and one which involves process, evolution, and a forward-focused orientation, so our study of it, Schiller, and pragmatism remains just the same―again, unfinished. Nonetheless, within this is the hope that part of this project will continue to expand into the philosophical tradition of pragmatism, which contains an under-examined level of a truly elaborate and coherent philosophy of history. Moreover, hopefully F.C.S. Schiller will continue to be included in this general pragmatist discussion as well, along with as an exemplar of a pragmatist-styled philosophy of history. In a sense, history always remains to be told.
Audi Robert , General Editor. 1999. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy Second Edition. Cambridge, uk: Cambridge University Press.
Burns Robert M. and Rayment-Pickard Hugh . 2000. Philosophies of History: From Enlightenment to Postmodernity . Oxford, uk: Blackwell Publishing.
Koopman Colin . 2010. “Historicism in Pragmatism: Lessons in Historiography and Philosophy,” Metaphilosophy, 41 (5): 690–713. Oxford, uk: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Koopman Colin . 2009. Pragmatism as TRANSITION: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty. New York, ny: Columbia University Press.
Mailloux Steven . 2011. “Euro-American Rhetorical Pragmatism: Democratic Deliberation, Humanist Controversies, and Purposeful Meditation,” Pragmatism Today, 2, (2): 83–90.
Manuel Faerna Ángel . 1996. Introducción a la teoría pragmatista del conocimiento. Madrid, Spain: Siglo ventiuno de españa editores s.a.
Margolis Joseph . 2010. Pragmatism’s Advantage: American and European Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century. Palo Alto, ca: Stanford University Press.
Porrovecchio Mark J. 2011. F.C.S. Schiller and the Dawn of Pragmatism: The Rhetoric of a Philosophical Rebel. Lanham, md: Lexington Books.
Schiller Ferdinand Canning Scott . 1908. Plato or Protagoras? Being a Critical Examination of the Protagoras Speech in the Thætetus with Some Remarks Upon Error. Internet Archive.
Schiller Ferdinand Canning Scott . 1891. Riddles of the Sphinx: A Study in the Philosophy of Evolution . London, uk: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.
Schiller Ferdinand Canning Scott . 1932. “The Meaning of Biological History,” The Personalist, Volume xiii (Los Angeles, ca: University of Southern California), pp. 268–280.
Schiller Ferdinand Canning Scott . 1932. “The Metaphysics of Change,” The Personalist, Volume xiii (Los Angeles, ca: University of Southern California), pp. 178–190.
Schiller Ferdinand Canning Scott . 1934. “Truthseekers and Soothsayers,” The Personalist, Volume xv (Los Angeles, ca: University of Southern California), pp. 209–218.
Schiller Ferdinand Canning Scott . 1938. “The Relativity of Metaphysics,” The Personalist, Volume xix (Los Angeles, ca: University of Southern California), pp. 241–254.
West Cornel . 1989. The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism . Madison, wi: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Quoted in: Michael Burns and Hugh Rayment-Pickard, Philosophy of History: From Enlightenment to Postmodernity (Oxford, uk: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), 5.
Moreover, Schiller explicitly notes that he does not coincide with the Hegelian teleological view, as evidenced in the following excerpt since Schiller does emphasize process and evolution: “Nor, again, is Hegelianism a philosophy that can utilize Evolutionism in any shape or form. For if there is any universally admitted presupposition of modern Evolutionism, it is the reality of the time-process, which is assumed in every use of an historical method.” From: Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, The Philosophical Review Volume 2 (Internet Archive, 1893): 589.
Colin Koopman, “Historicism in Pragmatism: Lessons in Historiography and Philosophy,” Metaphilosophy 41 (5) (2010): 691.
Colin Koopman, Pragmatism as TRANSITION: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty (New York, ny: Columbia University Press, 2009), 3.
Koopman, “Historicism in Pragmatism: Lessons in Historiography and Philosophy,” 691.
Koopman, Pragmatism as TRANSITION: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty, 690.
Koopman, “Historicism in Pragmatism: Lessons in Historiography and Philosophy,” 692.
Sheila Greeve Davaney, Historicism: The Once and Future Challenge for Theology (Minneapolis, mn: Fortress Press, 2006), 147.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Studies in Humanism (Memphis, tn: General Books, 1907), 235–36.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, “The Metaphysics of Change,” The Personalist Vol. xiii (1932): 187.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Riddles of the Sphinx: A Study of the Philosophy of Evolution (London, uk: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.,1891), 103–4.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, “The Meaning of Biological History,” The Personalist Vol. xiii (1932): 279.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Riddles of the Sphinx, 104.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, The Philosophical Review, 588.
Schiller, Riddles of the Sphinx, 200.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 123.
As we saw, “It is only from a knowledge of the tendencies of things in the past that we are able to predict their future: it is by the study of what has been that we discover what is to be, both in the sense of what is about to, and of what ought to. […] it is only by a careful study of the history of a thing that we can determine the direction of its development, and discover the general principle which formulates its evolution.” From: Schiller, Riddles of the Sphinx, 205.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Problems of Belief (London, uk: Hodder & Stoughton, 1924), 84.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, “The Relativity of Metaphysics,” The Personalist Vol. xix (1938): 249–250.
Steven Mailloux, Rhetoric, Sophistry, Pragmatism (Cambridge, uk: Cambridge University Press, 1995): 11–12.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 150.
Mark Porrovecchio, F.C.S. Schiller and the Dawn of Pragmatism: The Rhetoric of a Philosophical Rebel (Lenham, md: Lexington Books, 2011), 238.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 123.
Mailloux, Rhetoric, Sophistry, Pragmatism, 12.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 242.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Humanism: Philosophical Essays (London, uk: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1903), 216.
Porrovecchio, F.C.S. Schiller and the Dawn of Pragmatism: The Rhetoric of a Philosophical Rebel, 259.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 246.
Schiller, Humanism: Philosophical Essays, 58.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Formal Logic, a Scientific and Social Problem (Internet Archive 1910), 302–303.
Porrovecchio, F.C.S. Schiller and the Dawn of Pragmatism: The Rhetoric of a Philosophical Rebel, 241.
Schiller, Formal Logic, a Scientific and Social Problem, 406.
This is an example from another pragmatist, John Dewey, thus further witness to a ‘perspectivism’ in pragmatism in general.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 134.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Plato or Protagoras? Being a Critical Examination of the Protagoras Speech in the Thætetus with Some Remarks Upon Error (Internet Archive, 1908), 59.
Schiller, Studies in Humanism, 134.
Porrovecchio, F.C.S. Schiller and the Dawn of Pragmatism: The Rhetoric of a Philosophical Rebel, 22.
Mailloux, Rhetoric, Sophistry, Pragmatism, 12.
Schiller, Humanism: Philosophical Essays, 199.
Porrovecchio, F.C.S. Schiller and the Dawn of Pragmatism: The Rhetoric of a Philosophical Rebel, 100–101.
Quoted in: Ibid, 160.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, “Truthseekers and Soothsayers,” The Personalist Volume xv (1934), 214–215.
See Koopman’s book (2009) for more on this.