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History and Purpose

 
 
hue-man
 
Reply Tue 31 Mar, 2009 07:31 pm
The philosophy of history is mainly concerned with the question of whether or not there is a purpose to the history of man, and whether or not there is any eventual significance to it.

I don't believe that there is any ontological purpose to the history of man. Like our values, I believe that if there is any purpose to history it is the purpose that we assign to it. History is basically man's recording of his events. These events and developments seem to be a reflection of the human will to progress.

A remarkable fact about history is that the agents of the past are never aware of the agents of the future, but the agents of the future are always aware of the agents of the past. This allows for a future inheritor of history to build upon the events of the agents of the past.

Another remarkable fact about history is the lessons that it teaches those who are willing to learn from it. It teaches us not only of man's potential for evil, but of man's potential for good. Together with other fields of inquiry, it can also tell us what causes those goods and evils to surface.

History should not only be looked upon as a window to the past, but as a window to the possible future as well. This future is not fatal, it is determined by the agents of present day and times since past. We must look upon history as a reflection of our deepest desires and our collective will to further the technological, intellectual, and societal progression of our species.
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Resha Caner
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Apr, 2009 12:09 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
A remarkable fact about history is that the agents of the past are never aware of the agents of the future


Depends what you mean by that.

hue-man wrote:
the agents of the future are always aware of the agents of the past


I wouldn't say always. In fact, I'd say rarely. There are mammoth problems of incommensurability. What I see most is versions of what we want the past to be, not what it was.
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Apr, 2009 01:00 pm
@Resha Caner,
Resha Caner wrote:
Depends what you mean by that.



I wouldn't say always. In fact, I'd say rarely. There are mammoth problems of incommensurability. What I see most is versions of what we want the past to be, not what it was.


What I meant by that was that the agents of the past are not aware of the specific agents of the future and what the actions of those agents will be.

It is true that the agents of the future or present are not always aware of the agents of the past, especially the more common person, but they still unconsciously build upon the foundation that was set by those before them. The fact that even though the common person may not know the name of the agent, or their specific contribution to human history and yet they still further the contributions of unknown names and events seems to reflect a collective will for progress, wouldn't you agree? Of course, that same will can drive us to destruction when the proximate good is favored over the ultimate good.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Apr, 2009 03:19 pm
@Resha Caner,
Resha Caner wrote:
What I see most is versions of what we want the past to be, not what it was.


Sorry to impose here, but this isn't valid. The only way you could assert such a thing is if you knew both what 'we want' and 'what it really was'. Are you in possession of such absolute, corruption-free knowledge? I think not. It also assumes someone "wants" the past to be something. Believe it or not, there are a good number of people who are bereft of any interest in history - shocking, I know.

But the points Hue makes on history's significance are worthwhile. Recorded history contains a litany of ideals, facts, events and lessons. Yes, the accuracy of each is quite legitimately questioned; nevertheless, I believe there are a great many 'lessons' to be learned from what our predecessors have experienced.

... even if it isn't 100% accurate
Resha Caner
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Apr, 2009 05:54 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
What I meant by that was that the agents of the past are not aware of the specific agents of the future and what the actions of those agents will be.


By your addition of the word "specific" I can basically agree with you. Be aware, however, that you are assuming prophecy is invalid. Even if you don't accept the possibility of inspired prophecy, surely you'd agree that someone with a good sense of human behavior and a solid knowledge of history can make insightful conclusions about where we are headed. Con artists do it all the time to convince people they are psychic.

But I do get your point. My comments were an attempt to warn against over-generalization.

hue-man wrote:
It is true that the agents of the future or present are not always aware of the agents of the past, especially the more common person, but they still unconsciously build upon the foundation that was set by those before them.


Yes, I agree this can happen. I have a personal anecdote about an Aussie who was celebrating Poppy Day without any idea why poppy flowers were used or what war started this tradition. She just had a vague idea that it was a time to remember the war dead.
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Resha Caner
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Apr, 2009 05:57 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
Sorry to impose here, but this isn't valid.


Being a bit reactionary aren't we? I never said history has no lessons. Nor did I say anyone can know history perfectly. That doesn't exclude my awareness that distortion occurs and that people rationalize. Are you going to claim that doesn't happen? We just had an interesting discussion about that in another thread on the American Revolution. Both the Americans and the British have polished up their best spins on that event.

If the spin is too severe, it teaches the wrong lesson.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 04:58 am
@Resha Caner,
Hey Resha,

Resha Caner wrote:
Being a bit reactionary aren't we?


Yes, it's called responding to a statement. Nothing more

Resha Caner wrote:
I never said history has no lessons. Nor did I say anyone can know history perfectly...


But you would have to, "... know history perfectly" in order to make your statement true. Your saying that "What I see most is versions of what we want the past to be, not what it was" says there IS a difference between 'what we want' and 'what it was'. How can you know that difference if you don't know what it was?

The point is this is yet another claim to knowledge. If we don't know how it 'really was' in history, how can we know that what we're ascribing to is false? Once one admits a lack of knowledge, it cuts both ways.

In any case, it seems to be widely accepted that anything historical is 'spun' towards one or another point of view. This strikes me as obvious, in the extreme. But once we admit that we don't know all the facts because we weren't there, the validity of calling anyone else's view 'false' is lost.

Thanks
xris
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 05:46 am
@Khethil,
History can suit the readers purpose,my grand daughters love of japan actively stops her hearing the horrors they inflicted in ww2.I hear all the time biased views of certain events in history.It is used to inflict hatred and encourage war too many times.When your English like me you are for ever bombarded with my countries imperial past and the horrors it inflicted.My near neighbours can either jokingly boo us or detest us for events that happened a 800 years ago.Sorry to break the spell over history and how it helps us manage the present..
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 11:39 am
@xris,
xris wrote:
History can suit the readers purpose,my grand daughters love of japan actively stops her hearing the horrors they inflicted in ww2.I hear all the time biased views of certain events in history.It is used to inflict hatred and encourage war too many times.When your English like me you are for ever bombarded with my countries imperial past and the horrors it inflicted.My near neighbours can either jokingly boo us or detest us for events that happened a 800 years ago.Sorry to break the spell over history and how it helps us manage the present..


Yes, but if I understand your point correctly, then my response is that ignoring history because it is unappealing to you, and literally changing it to suit you are two different things. You can say it didn't happen or ignore the fact that it did happen all you want, but that doesn't change the fact that the event actually happened.
Resha Caner
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 07:39 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
The point is this is yet another claim to knowledge.


No, not really. I think you're reading much more into this than I intended. And, I hope you're not taking one of the extreme positions on what "I know" means. I do, at times, makes claims that "I know this" or "I know that", but that is far from the intent of my OP. If you want this to be an epistemological discussion, we can go that way, but it would ruin this thread.

So let me rephrase. Maybe that will help you get over whatever obstacle you seem to see in what I said.

Rather than "What I see most is versions of what we want the past to be, not what it was", what if I phrased it as: I do not see very many people making an attempt to see the past for what it was. Rather, they prefer to imagine it as they want it to be - much like the comment xris made about his granddaughter.

It's just an observation of human behavior, and you don't seem to disagree with me, since you acknowledge that spin occurs.

Here is what I find funny about your position that the OP was good, yet we don't know anything. But maybe you can explain it to me. If we know no truths regarding the past, what "lessons" can we possibly gain from them that are any different than reading fairy tales?
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Apr, 2009 10:48 am
@Resha Caner,
Hey Resha,

No, your point wasn't lost at all.

Resha Caner wrote:
... I do not see very many people making an attempt to see the past for what it was...


Agree completely. I wish I had some way to know - or at least to be more sure. I read a lot and a good bit of it is 'history' (either of the fictional sort of what is billed as 'non-fiction'). I figure that for every 10 accounts of "X", I might be able to sense just a small thread of how "X" really was. Do I know this? Nope...

Resha Caner wrote:
... If we know no truths regarding the past, what "lessons" can we possibly gain from them that are any different than reading fairy tales?


Good question. I suppose my simple answer would be "None". However... Simplified answers gloss over the important details, so here's what I think the better answer is:

What is taught, billed, claimed or told by any source as 'Historically Accurate" may or may not be. Nothing is beyond absolute scrutiny, but this isn't to say it is worthless; or more importantly, completely without any truth. The idea I was (and am) trying to get across is 2 pronged: (1) That all needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I think we're on the same page in that regards. -and- (2) I think it's important to acknowledge both sides; If I don't know "X" is correct, then I don't know it's incorrect either.

But you do bring up an excellent question: Have we more to learn from "historically accurate" accounts as opposed to, say, Aesop's fables, curious George, my dad's fish story or the book of revelations? As I said, "Not necessarily"; however, for those that DO seek accurate information on the past, the only way we can come close is to search different sources taking everything as a 'part' of the story. Lessons, themselves, can come from any source depending on the mind of the reader

Sticky issue - thanks for engaging.
xris
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Apr, 2009 11:56 am
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
Yes, but if I understand your point correctly, then my response is that ignoring history because it is unappealing to you, and literally changing it to suit you are two different things. You can say it didn't happen or ignore the fact that it did happen all you want, but that doesn't change the fact that the event actually happened.
I never said ignore history how could you ? Im saying it is always biased and it can be used for the benefit of man or just the opposite, as a tool for hatred and reprisal.Ethnic cleansing in recent times is one example and Irish history still motivates terrorists to kill.
Resha Caner
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Apr, 2009 03:34 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:
What is taught, billed, claimed or told by any source as 'Historically Accurate" may or may not be. Nothing is beyond absolute scrutiny, but this isn't to say it is worthless; or more importantly, completely without any truth. The idea I was (and am) trying to get across is 2 pronged: (1) That all needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I think we're on the same page in that regards. -and- (2) I think it's important to acknowledge both sides; If I don't know "X" is correct, then I don't know it's incorrect either.

But you do bring up an excellent question: Have we more to learn from "historically accurate" accounts as opposed to, say, Aesop's fables, curious George, my dad's fish story or the book of revelations? As I said, "Not necessarily"; however, for those that DO seek accurate information on the past, the only way we can come close is to search different sources taking everything as a 'part' of the story. Lessons, themselves, can come from any source depending on the mind of the reader.


For the most part, I agree with you. I was careful to use the word "different" rather than saying we learn "more" from history than from parables. I can't say what vehicle is best suited to teach a particular point, but history and parable are different.

And I think the key to that difference is the fact that history claims to be based on actual events (even if we never reach perfection in the search for the facts). Parables can amplify their lesson in new and enlightening ways, but they must be connected to the listener's experience or they fall flat. Parables cannot invent truth, but must depend on making some kind of connection between teller and listener. If that does not occur, a parable is merely a strawman.

History appeals to something outside both teller and listener - to something objective. For example, few of us will ever witness genocide personally, and maybe some Turks (the Armenian genocide of WWI) or some Germans (the Jewish genocide of WWII) don't want to hear it. Maybe neo-facists want to deny it. But the facts scream that it has occurred.
0 Replies
 
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 Apr, 2009 10:30 pm
@xris,
xris wrote:
I never said ignore history how could you ? Im saying it is always biased and it can be used for the benefit of man or just the opposite, as a tool for hatred and reprisal.Ethnic cleansing in recent times is one example and Irish history still motivates terrorists to kill.


I wasn't saying that you were advising people to ignore history. I was just adding my two cents to your statement. Read your statement and then read my response again.
xris
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Apr, 2009 06:23 am
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
I wasn't saying that you were advising people to ignore history. I was just adding my two cents to your statement. Read your statement and then read my response again.
Well i have read it again and you will have to repeat yourself because its not clear.If your saying i dont like it because its the truth then your wrong on that point as well, i dont mind the truth as long as its kept in relation to it being history not a as point of anguish or revenge.
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Apr, 2009 07:18 am
@xris,
xris wrote:
Well i have read it again and you will have to repeat yourself because its not clear.If your saying i dont like it because its the truth then your wrong on that point as well, i dont mind the truth as long as its kept in relation to it being history not a as point of anguish or revenge.


That's not what I'm saying, Xris. I was simply referring to the examples you gave of people ignoring history because it's unappealing.
xris
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Apr, 2009 07:20 am
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
That's not what I'm saying, Xris. I was simply referring to the examples you gave of people ignoring history because it's unappealing.
Sorry Hue, i must chill a bit more..Xris
0 Replies
 
avatar6v7
 
  1  
Reply Sat 16 May, 2009 08:14 am
@hue-man,
hue-man wrote:
The philosophy of history is mainly concerned with the question of whether or not there is a purpose to the history of man, and whether or not there is any eventual significance to it.

I don't believe that there is any ontological purpose to the history of man. Like our values, I believe that if there is any purpose to history it is the purpose that we assign to it. History is basically man's recording of his events. These events and developments seem to be a reflection of the human will to progress.

Surely you are contradicting yourself here- on the one hand you say there is no purpose to history, but on the other you talk about progress, a concept that assumes a purpose to history- i.e. that of a journey of constant improvement.
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Sat 16 May, 2009 09:05 am
@avatar6v7,
avatar6v7 wrote:
Surely you are contradicting yourself here- on the one hand you say there is no purpose to history, but on the other you talk about progress, a concept that assumes a purpose to history- i.e. that of a journey of constant improvement.


Surely you are misunderstanding my words. Read them over again. I said that there is no ontological purpose and that we assign philosophical value to things. If there is any purpose to history it is the purpose that we assign to it. I believe that human history shows a collective will for progressing beyond nature's limitations. Those limitations are moral, biological, psychological, technological, epistemic, etc. etc.
avatar6v7
 
  1  
Reply Sat 16 May, 2009 10:49 am
@hue-man,
But what does that mean 'assign'? Surely we 'assign' meaning to everything in one sense, but that does not mean it does not have inherant meaning. If by history you mean the history of mankind, then sure, we 'assign' meaning, but surely saying the history of humanity is equivalant to saying our journey to fulfill our purpose. Our history reflects an ontological purpose.
 

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