Philosophy of History

Miranda                               O Wonder!
     How many goodly creatures are there here!
     How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
     That has such people in't!

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act 5, Scene 1:181-184

...daher es kommt, daß jedes Bessere nur mühsam sich durchdrängt, das Edle and Weise sehr selten zur Erscheinung gelangt und Wirksamkeit oder Gehör findet, aber das Absurde und Verkehrte im Reiche des Denkens, das Platte und Abgeschmackte im Reiche der Kunst, das Böse und Hinterlistige im Reiche der Thaten, nur durch kurze Unterbrechungen gestört, eigenlich die Herrschaft behaupten...

Hence arises the fact that everything better struggles through only with difficulty; what is noble and wise very rarely makes its appearance, becomes effective, or meets with a hearing, but the absurd and perverse in the realm of thought, the dull and tasteless in the sphere of art, and the wicked and fraudulent in the sphere of action, really assert a supremacy that is disturbed only by brief interruptions.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §59 [Reclam, 1987, p.457], The World as Will and Representation, Volume I [Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.324], color added

This evil fortune, which generally attends extraordinary men in the management of great affairs, has been imputed to divers causes, that need not be here set down, when so obvious a one occurs, if what a certain writer observes be true, that when a great genius appears in the world the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

Jonathan Swift, "Essay on the Fates of Clergymen" [1728]

All terrible evils has Romania suffered from the Arabs even until now.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959 AD) quoting the Chronicle of Theophanes (c.815 AD), De Administrando Imperio, p.94 [Dumbarton Oaks Texts, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik, 1967, 2008, color added]

Let's go, men, against these barbarians!

Constantine XI Dragases, his last words, the Fifth Military Gate of Constantinople, May 29, 1453 [Greek Text, Laonikos Chalkokondyles, The Histories, Volume II, translated by Anthony Kaldellis, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Harvard University Press, 2014, p.192]


The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know yet.

Harry S Truman

...and thus we can understand how the work of War, although so plain and simple in its effects, can never be conducted with distinguished success by people without distinguished powers of the understanding.

Carl von Clausewitz, On War [Penguin Classics, 1968, 1982, p. 155]

The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright [Sophocles] says, it "brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest." Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against the stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion.

Anna Comnena (1083-1153), The Alexiad, translated by E.R.A. Sewter [Penguin Classics, 1969, p.17]. Contemporary image of the Empress Maria, the Alan.

"History Instructing Youth,"
United States $1 Silver Certificate, "Educational Series," 1896


Should a traveller, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men, wholly different from any with whom we were ever acquainted; men, who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or revenge; who knew no pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public spirit; we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falsehood, and prove him a liar, with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. And if we would explode any forgery in history, we cannot make use of a more convincing argument, than to prove, that the actions ascribed to any person are directly contrary to the course of nature, and that no human motives, in such circumstances, could ever induce him to such a conduct.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sect. VIII, Part I, p. 65 [Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1972, L.A. Selby-Bigge edition, p. 84]

Reference Resources

Most of the following reference items are perhaps not, strictly speaking, philosophy of history. The editorial intention originally was to provide some material of more general interest than the purely philosophical content of The Proceedings of the Friesian School to attract attention to the website. However, history provides countless examples for the application of ideas from both ethics and political economy. If philosophy is to be historically practical in the Socratic or Platonic sense, then it helps to know history. Political commitment is also an important characrteristic of the Friesian School. Therefore, there has been increasing use of the historical files for these purposes. Not all of history may be covered here, but a very extensive fragment of it certainly is.


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