Historicism: Hegel

Jon Kofas writes:There have been many critics of G. W. F. Hegel's "Historicism", including the great philosopher Karl Popper. InThe Poverty of Historicism Popper dismissed the idea that there are laws of development in history which can be discovered  by man in the manner that Sir Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity or that Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity. While history was a social science operating on Hegelian laws as far as  Marx was concerned, it was a branch of the "humanities" for Popper. Peter Orne's pessimism may stem from the reality of the socioeconomic gap in the advanced capitalist countries, and geographical gap (northern v. southern hemisphere) is widening rather than closing, despite the promise of prosperity if only people accept globalization. There is a great deal of truth to Popper's basic thesis that there are no laws of historical development, because human beings are complex and multidimensional - rational, irrational, spiritual, spontaneous etc. At the same time, the Marxist version of historicism based on dialectical materialism also has a great deal of truth which can be proved by what has transpired in history during the transition periods (social discontinuity) from the ancient world to the medieval (see Ferdinand Lot, Recueil des travaux historiques) and from the feudal-manorial system to the capitalist (Fernand Braudel, TheMediterranean & the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philippe II ). Hegel & Marx have given scholars the theoretical tools to explain social discontinuity. Globalization does not represent social discontinuity. It will continue because of modern technology, means of transportation and communication, and of course, merging of capital. But is it a catalytic stage in human history, or even a trend that will not itself be transformed by the dialectical forces of human beings?

RH: I side with Hegel. Human beings are complex, yet medicine and psychology are sciences.  Nature is incredibly complex, yet biology is a science.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: October 11, 2004