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Hegel opens his lectures on the philosophy of history by giving brief
accounts of three distinct types of written history. These are:
I. Original history
II. Reflective history
III. Philosophic history
Original history consists of an account of actions, events, and situations lived through and witnessed (for the most part) by the historian. Other primary sources are used, but as "ingredients only"--the account depends fundamentally on the historian's own witnessing of the times. Hegel cites Thucydides and Herodotus as examples. He also describes this type of recorded history as "history whose spirit [the historian] shared in," and notes that the primary task of "original history" is to create an internal, "mental representation" of external events.
Hegel then notes some qualifications or limits to the category of original history. It excludes "legends, folksongs, [and] traditions," because these are "obscure modes of memory, proper to the mentality of pre-literate peoples." Original history must deal instead with the "observed and observable reality" of a people who are self-aware and unique (who "knew what they were and what they wanted").
Further, original history "cannot be of great external scope"; it is a limited viewpoint, a "portrait of the time." The original historian does not offer a great deal of theory about or reflection on the events and situations he or she recounts--"he lives within the spirit of the times and cannot as yet transcend them." For Hegel, the spirit in which the original historian is writing is the same as the spirit of the times he or she is writing about: "the spirit of the author and of the actions he tells of, are one and the same."
Hegel notes that speeches recorded in historical accounts may seem to be a special case here, since they would seem to be reflections on the times rather than mere accounts of the times. But public speeches are in fact "effective actions in their very essence," just as much as a war or an election. For this reason, they are not removed reflections on history but "integral components of history" recorded by the original historian, who shares the cultural consciousness of the speaker.
We can distinguish three very rough stages of original history. In antiquity, it was primarily statesmen who wrote history. In the middle ages, monks were the historians (Hegel calls their works "naive chronicles"). In Hegel's own time, "all this has changed...[our culture] immediately converts all events into reports for intellectual representation." These contemporary original histories aim for breadth and accuracy, seeking to portray things precisely and simply so that we can then interpret them in other forms of writing. Hegel writes that only people "of high social standing" can execute this kind of history: "only from a superior position can one truly see things for what they are and see everything."
Hegel suggests that no state in any age or any stage of human history can be perfect no matter how high and noble goals it may pursue or achieve. By the time the state achieve those high ideals, human intellect achieves new heights which makes the high goals already achieved by that “next to perfect” state outdated and a quest for achieving the new targets and goals starts, leading human society to its next level, a higher level of development and a new stage in the journey towards perfection.
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