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HOME > Classical Novels > Theory & History of Historiography > APPENDIX III PHILOSOPHY AND METHODOLOGY
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Having established the unity of philosophy and historiography, and shown that the division between the two has but a literary and didactic value, because it is founded upon the possibility of placing in the foreground of verbal exposition now one and now the other of the two dialectical elements of that unity, it is well to make quite clear what is the true object of the treatises bearing the traditional title of philosophic 'theory' or 'system': to what (in a word) philosophy can be reduced.

Philosophy, in consequence of the new relation in which it has been placed, cannot of necessity be anything but the methodological moment of historiography: a dilucidation of the categories constitutive of historical judgments, or of the concepts that direct historical interpretation. And since historiography has for content the concrete life of the spirit, and this life is life of imagination and of thought, of action and of morality (or of something else, if anything else can be thought of), and in this variety of its forms remains always one, the dilucidation moves in distinguishing between ?sthetic and logic, between economic and ethic, uniting and dissolving them all in the philosophy of the spirit. If a philosophical problem shows itself to be altogether sterile for the historical judgment, we have there the proof that such problem is otiose, badly stated, and in reality does not exist. If the solution of a problem—that is to say, of a philosophical proposition—instead[Pg 152] of making history more intelligible, leaves it obscure or confounds it with others, or leaps over it and lightly condemns or negates it, we have there the proof that such proposition and the philosophy with which it is connected are arbitrary, though it may preserve interest in other respects, as a manifestation of sentiment or of imagination.

The definition of philosophy as 'methodology' is not at first exempt from doubts, even on the part of one ready to accept in general the tendency that it represents; because philosophy and methodology are terms often contrasted, and a philosophy that leads to a methodology is apt to be tainted with empiricism. But certainly the methodology of which we are here speaking is not at all empirical; indeed, it appears just for the purpose of correcting and taking the place of the empirical methodology of professional historians and of other such specialists in all that greater part of it where it is a true and proper, though defective, attempt toward the philosophical solution of the theoretical problems raised by the study of history, or toward philosophical methodology and philosophy as methodology.

If, however, the above-mentioned dispute is settled as soon as stated, this cannot be said of another, where our position finds itself opposed to a widely diffused and ancient conception of philosophy as the solver of the mystery of the universe, knowledge of ultimate reality, revelation of the world of noumena, which is held to be beyond the world of phenomena, in which we move in ordinary life and in which history also moves. This is not the place to give the history of that idea; but we must at least say this, that its origin is religious or mythological, and that it persisted even[Pg 153] among those philosophers who were most successful in directing thought toward our earth as the sole reality, and initiated the new philosophy as methodology of the judgment or of historical knowledge. It persisted in Kant, who admitted it as the limit of his criticism; it persisted in Hegel, who framed his subtle researches in logic and philosophy of the spirit in a sort of mythology of the Idea.

Nevertheless, the diversity of the two conceptions manifested itself in an ever-increasing ratio, finding expression in various formulas of the nineteenth century, such as psychology against metaphysic, a philosophy of experience and immanence, aprioristic against transcendental philosophy, positivism against idealism; and although the polemic was as a rule ill conducted, going beyond the mark and ending by unconsciously embracing that very metaphysic, transcendency, and apriority, that very abstract idealism, which it had set out to combat, the sentiment that inspired it was legitimate. And the philosophy of methodology has made it its own, has combated the same adversary with better arms, has certainly insisted upon a psychological view, but a speculative psychological view, immanent in history, but dialectically immanent, differing in this from positivism, that while the latter made necessary the contingent, it made the contingent necessary, thus affirming the right of thought to the hegemony. Such a philosophy is just philosophy as history (and so history as philosophy), and the determination of the philosophical moment in the purely categorical and methodological moment.

The greater vigour of this conception in respect to the opposite, the superiority of philosophy as methodology over philosophy as metaphysic, is shown by the capacity of the former to solve the problems of the latter by[Pg 154] criticizing them and pointing out their origin. Metaphysic, on the other hand, is incapable of solving not only the problems of methodology, but even its own problems, without having recourse to the fantastic and arbitrary. Thus questions as to the reality of the external world, of soul-substance, of the unknowable, of dualisms and of antitheses, and so forth, have disappeared in gnoseological doctrines, which have substituted better conceptions for those which we formerly possessed concerning the logic of the sciences, explaining those questions as eternally renascent aspects of the dialectic or phenomenology of knowledge.

The view of philosophy as metaphysic is, however, so inveterate and so tenacious that it is not surprising that it should still give some sign of life in the minds of those who have set themselves free of it in general, but have not applied themselves to eradicating it in all its particulars, nor closed all the doors by which it may return in a more or less unexpected manner. And if we rarely find it openly and directly displayed now, we may yet discern or suspect it in one or other of its aspects or attitudes, persisting like kinks of the mind, or unconscious preconceptions, which threaten to drive philosophy as methodology back into the wrong path, and to prepare the return, though but for a brief period, of the metaphysic that has been superseded.

It seems to me opportune to provide here a clear statement of some of these preconceptions, tendencies, and habits, pointing out the errors which they contain and entail.

First of all the survivals of the past that are still common comes the view of philosophy as having a fundamental problem to solve. Now the conception of a fundamental problem is intrinsically at variance with[Pg 155] that of philosophy as history, and with the treatment of philosophy as methodology of history, which posits, and cannot do otherwise than posit, the infinity of philosophical problems, all certainly connected with one another, but not one of which can be considered fundamental, for just the same reason that no single part of an organism is the foundation of all the others, but each one is in its turn foundation and founded. If, indeed, methodology take the substance of its problems from history, history in its most modest but concrete form of history of ourselves, of each one of us as an individual, this shows us that we pass on from one to another particular philosophical problem at the promptings of our life as it is lived, and that one or the other group or class of problems holds the field or has especial interest for us, according to the epochs of our life. And we find the same to be the case if we look at the wider but less definite spectacle afforded by the already mentioned general history of philosophy—that is to say, that according to times and peoples, philosophical problems relating sometimes to morality, sometimes to politics, to religion, or to the natural sciences and mathematics, have in turn the upper hand. Every particular philosophical problem has been a problem of the whole of philosophy, either openly or by inference, but we never meet with a general problem of philosophy, owing to the contradiction thereby implied. And if there does seem to be one (and it certainly does seem so), it is really a question of appearances, due to the fact that modern philosophy, which comes to us from the Middle Ages and was elaborated during the religious struggles of the Renaissance, has preserved a strong imprint of theology in its didactic form, not less than in the psychological disposition of the greater part of those addicted to it.[Pg 156] Hence arises the fundamental and almost unique importance usurped by the problem of thought and being, which after all was nothing more than the old problem of this world and the next, of earth and heaven, in a critical and gnoseological form. But those who destroyed or who initiated the destruction of heaven and of the other world and of transcendental philosophy by immanent philosophy began at the same moment to corrode the conception of a fundamental problem, although they were not fully aware of this (for we have said above that they remained trammelled in the philosophy of the Thing in Itself or in the Mythology of the Idea). That problem was rightly fundamental for religious spirits, who held that the whole intellectual and practical dominion of the world was nothing, unless they had saved their own souls or their own thought in another world, in the knowledge of a world of noumena and reality. But such it was not destined to remain for the philosophers, henceforth restricted to the world alone or to nature, which has no skin and no kernel and is all of a piece. What would happen were we to resume belief in a fundamental problem, dominating all others? The other problems would either have to be considered as all dependent upon it and therefore solved with it, or as problems no longer philosophical but empirical. That is to say, all the problems appearing every day anew in science and life would lose their value, either becoming a tautology of the fundamental solution or being committed to empirical treatment. Thus the distinction between philosophy and methodology, between metaphysic and philosophy of the spirit, would reappear, the first transcendental as regards the second, the second aphilosophical as regards the first.

[Pg 157]

Another view, arising from the old metaphysical conception of the function of philosophy, leads to the rejection of distinction in favour of unity, thus conforming to the theological conception that all distinctions are unified by absorption in God, and to the religious point of view, which forgets the world and its necessities in the vision of God. From this ensues a disposition which may be described as something between indifferent, accommodating, or weak, in respect of particular problems, and the pernicious doctrine of the double faculty is almost tacitly renewed, that is, of intellectual intuition or other superior cognoscitive faculty, peculiar to the philosopher and leading to the vision of true reality, and of criticism or thought prone to interest itself in the contingent and thus greatly inferior in degree and free to proceed with a lack of speculative rigour not permissible in the other. Such a disposition led to the worst possible consequences in the philosophical treatises of the Hegelian school, where the disciples (differing from the master) generally gave evidence of having meditated but little or not at all upon the problems of the various spiritual forms, freely accepting vulgar opinions concerning them, or engaging in them with the indifference of men sure of the essential, and therefore cutting and mutilating them without pity, in order to force them into their pre-established schemes with all haste, thus getting rid of difficulties by means of this illusory arrangement. Hence the emptiness and tiresomeness of their philosophies, from which the historian, or the man whose attention is directed to the understanding of the particular and the concrete, failed to learn anything that could be of use to him in the direction of his own studies and in the clearer formulation of his own judgments. And since the mythology of the idea[Pg 158] reappeared in positivism as mythology of evolution, here too particular problems (which are indeed the only philosophical problems) received merely schematic and empty treatment and did not progress at all. Phil............
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