Monday, July 07, 2014

Philosophies of History and Art

My Philosophy in Bullet Points continues, in celebration of my new philosophy textbook (also see my theology bullet points). Unlike the textbook, which tries to present all basic positions fairly, these posts give my philosophical quippage.

1. Epistemology and Metaphysics.
2. Philosophies of God and Science

Philosophy of History
  • Proper historical method is very similar to scientific method. You take a given amount of data. You formulate hypotheses in relation to the data. Historians offer their competing hypotheses to see which best account for the most data in the simplest and most elegant way possible.
  • The difference between historical method and scientific method consists in the limitations of the amount of data and the difficulty of "repeating the experiment."
  • However, there is a sense in which you can test a historical hypothesis driven by one portion of the data in another. There is also a sense in which the fundamental patterns of cause and effect are repeated every day of history.
  • The fundamental assumption of reconstructing history is that of cause and effect. Troeltsch does not exhaust historical method for a Christian, but his principles are the default mode: 1) assume normal operations of cause and effect, 2) with explanations similar to how we would explain similar events today, and 3) with the sense that conclusions are always potentially revisable.
  • The key difference for a Christian reconstructing history is the assumption that the supernatural can happen, although this should not be the default explanation for past events.
  • All historical reconstruction requires selection, emphasis, and interpretation. There is no such thing as telling history "exactly as it happened" (von Ranke). No "exegesis" is  presuppositionless (Bultmann).
  • Primary sources should be more central to historical investigation than secondary ones. The historian must ask what the interpretive angle of every source is.
  • The books of the Bible that interact with history also approach history from a perspective. Some are more theological in presentation than others (e.g., John). We should not assume that the model of history writing today is the same as the models of yesterday.
  • Historical reconstruction should aim at a "thick" description (Geertz), one that takes into account socio-cultural paradigms.
  • The one who controls the past, controls the present, and the one who controls the present, controls the future. (Orwell) History is told by the winners. The vast majority of ideological artifacts that have survived from the past come from the literary elite, who were the smallest subset of the past and not representative.
  • Grands recits of history tend to skew history fundamentally. The most accurate reconstructions of the past usually relate to small sets of data.
  • The default mode of human historical interpretation is cyclical. Apocalyptic Judaism is fairly unusual in its linear sense of history, and one could argue that it only shifted to linear in times of intense social pressure. Christianity inherited this intensely linear sense of history.
  • Most of history is neither getting better and better or worse and worse. Each generation tends to involve multiple paths of deterioration and improvement.
  • Christ will come again and reset history in a fundamental way, eliminating evil and restoring the intended glory of creation.
Philosophy of Art
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, there are probably some common human intuitions in this regard, but they are overwhelmed by the cultural and individual. 
  • The only thing that has intrinsic value is God. Art is any metaphor that expresses something of personal significance to a person. It is thus something that stands for something to someone.
  • Creation is the artwork of God.
  • Art can represent reality as seen through the eyes of an artist or "surrogate" and can aim to be representational. (Aristotle)
  • Art can embody the emotion of an individual artist or surrogate. (Romantics)
  • Art can embody universal feeling or religious value. (Tolstoy)
  • Art can express repressed emotion. (Marcuse)

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