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HOME > Classical Novels > Theory & History of Historiography > APPENDIX II ANALOGY AND ANOMALY OF SPECIAL HISTORIES
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In the course of the preceding theoretical explanations we have denied both the idea of a universal history (in time and space)[1] and that of a general history (of the spirit in its indiscriminate generality or unity),[2] and have insisted instead upon the opposite view with its two clauses: that history is always particular and always special, and that these two determinations constitute precisely concrete and effective universality and concrete and effective unity. What has been declared impossible, then, does not represent in any way a loss, for it is on the one hand fictitious universality or the universality of fancy, and on the other abstract universality, or, if it be preferred, confused universality. So-called universal histories have therefore shown themselves to be particular histories, which have assumed that title for purposes of literary notoriety, or as collections, views, and chroniclistical compilations of particular histories, or, finally, as romances. In like manner, general inclusive histories are either so only in name, or set different histories side by side, or they are metaphysical and metaphorical playthings.

As a result of this double but converging negation, it is also advisable to refute a common and deeply rooted belief (which we ourselves at one time shared to some extent)[3] that we should arrive at the re-establishment of the universality of the fancy: or that there are some[Pg 142] among the special histories, constituted according to the various forms of the spirit (general and individual only in so far as every form of the spirit is the whole spirit in that form), which require universal treatment and others only treatment as monographs. The typical instance generally adduced is that of the difference between the history of philosophy and the history of poetry or of art. The subject of the former is supposed to be the one great philosophical problem that interests all men, of the latter the sentimental or imaginative problems of particular moments, or at the most of particular artists. Thus the former is supposed to be continuous, the latter discontinuous, the former capable of complete universal vision, the second only of a sequence of particular visions. But a more 'realistic' conception of philosophy deprives it of this privilege as compared with the history of art and poetry or of any other special history; for, appearances notwithstanding, it is not true that men have concentrated upon one philosophical problem only, whose successive solutions, less and less inadequate, compose a single line of progress, the universal history of the human spirit, affording support and unification to all other histories. The opposite is the truth: the philosophical problems that men have treated of and will treat of are infinite, and each one of them is always particularly and individually determined. The illusion as to the uniqueness of the problem is due to logical misapprehension, increased by historical contingencies, whence a problem which owing to religious motives seemed supreme has been looked upon as unique or fundamental, and groupings and generalizations made for practical ends have been held to be real identity and unity.[4] 'Universal'[Pg 143] histories of philosophy, too, like the others, when we examine them with a good magnifying glass, are revealed as either particular histories of the problem that engages the philosopher-historian, or arbitrary artificial constructions, or tables and collections of many different historical sequences, in the manner of a manual or encyclop?dia of philosophical history. Certainly nothing forbids the composition of abridgments of philosophical histories, containing classifications of particular problems and representing the principal thinkers of all peoples and of all times as occupied with one or another class of problem. This, however, is always a chroniclistical and naturalistic method of treating the history of philosophy, which only really lives when a new thinker connects the problems already set in the past and its intrinsic antecedents with the definite problem that occupies his attention. He provisionally sets aside others with a different connexion, though without for that reason suppressing them, intending rather to recall them when another problem makes their presence necessary. It is for this reason that even in those abridgments that seem to be the most complete and 'objective' (that is to say, 'material') a certain selection does appear, due to the theoretical interest of the writer, who never altogether ceases to be a historiographer-philosopher. The procedure is in fact just that of the history of art and poetry, where what is really historical treatment, living and complete, is the thought or criticism of individual poetical personalities, and the rest a table of criticisms, an abridgment due to contiguity of time or place, affinity of matter or similarity of temperament, or to degrees of artistic excellence. Nor must we say that every philosophic problem is linked to all the others and is always a problem of the whole of[Pg 144] philosophy, thus differing from the cases of poetry and art, for there is no diversity here either, and the whole of history and the entire universe are immanent in every single work of art.

Now that we have likewise reduced philosophies of history to the rank of particular histories, it is scarcely necessary to demonstrate that the demand being made in several quarters for a 'universal' or 'general' history of science is without foundation. For such a history would be impossible to write, even if we were able to identify or compare the history of science with chat of philosophy. But it is doubly impossible both because there are comprised under the name of 'science' such diverse forms as sciences of observation and mathematical sciences, and also because in each of these classes themselves the several disciplines remain separate, owing to the irreducible variety of data and postulates from which they spring. If, as we have pointed out, every particular philosophical problem links and places itself in harmony with all other philosophical problems, every scientific problem tends, on the contrary, to shut itself up in itself, and there is no more destructive tendency in science than that of 'explaining' all the facts by means of a 'single principle,' substituting, that is to say, an unfruitful metaphysic for fruitful science, allowing an empty word to act as a magic wand, and by 'explaining everything' to 'explain' nothing at all. The unity admitted by the history of the sciences is not that which connects one theory with another and one science with another in an imaginary general history of science, but that which connects each science and each theory with the intellectual and social complex of the moment in which it appeared. But even here too we must utter the warning[Pg 145] that in thus explaining their true nature we do not wish to contest the right to existence of tables and encyclop?dias of the history of science, far less to throw discredit upon the present direction of studies, by means of which, at the call of the history of the sciences, useful Research is stimulated in directions that have been long neglected. Nor do we intend to move any objection to histories of science in the form of tables and encyclop?dias on the ground that it is impossible for the same student to be equally competent as to problems of quite different nature, such as are those of the various sciences; for it is inconceivable that a philosopher exists with a capacity equal to the understanding of each and every philosophical problem (indeed, the mind of the best solver of certain problems is usually the more closed to others); or that a critic and historian of poetry and art exists who tastes and enjoys equally all forms of poetry and art, however versatile he be. Each one has his sphere marked out more or less narrowly, and each is universal only by means of his particularity.

Finally, we shall not repeat the same demonstration for political history and ethics, where the claim to represent the whole of history in a single line of development has had less occasion to manifest itself. It is usually more readily admitted there that every history is particular—that is to say, determined by the political and ethical problem or problems with which history is concerned in time and place, and which every history therefore occasionally rethinks from the beginning. The analogy, then, between different kinds of special history is to be considered perfect, and the anomaly between them excluded, for they all obey the principle of particularity, that is, particular universality (whatever be[Pg 146] the appearance to the contrary). But if, as histories, they all proceed according to the nature of what we have explained as historiography, in so far as they are special each one conforms to the concept of its speciality. It is in this sense alone that each one is anomalous in respect to the others, preserving, that is to say, its own peculiar nature. We have explained that the claim to treat the history of poetry and of art in the same way as philosophy is erroneous, not only because it misconceives the true concept of history, ............
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