Philosophy of History

Miranda                               O Wonder!
     How many goodly creatures are there here!
     How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
     That has such people in't!

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act 5, Scene 1:181-184

...daher es kommt, daß jedes Bessere nur mühsam sich durchdrängt, das Edle und Weise sehr selten zur Erscheinung gelangt und Wirksamkeit oder Gehör findet, aber das Absurde und Verkehrte im Reiche des Denkens, das Platte und Abgeschmackte im Reiche der Kunst, das Böse und Hinterlistige im Reiche der Thaten, nur durch kurze Unterbrechungen gestört, eigenlich die Herrschaft behaupten...

Hence arises the fact that everything better struggles through only with difficulty; what is noble and wise very rarely makes its appearance, becomes effective, or meets with a hearing, but the absurd and perverse in the realm of thought, the dull and tasteless in the sphere of art, and the wicked and fraudulent in the sphere of action, really assert a supremacy that is disturbed only by brief interruptions.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §59 [Reclam, 1987, p.457], The World as Will and Representation, Volume I [Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.324], color added

Ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται;
Στήκει ὡς τὸ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆςἠλαττώθη;

How does Romania look to you?
Does it stand as from the beginning or has it been diminished?

Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, Διδασκαλία Ἰακώβου νεοβαπτίστου (634 AD), A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 316, translation modified], Greek text, "Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati," Édition et traduction par Vincent Déroche, Travaux et Mémoires, 11 [Collège de France Centre de Recherche d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, De Boccard, Paris, 1991, p.167], color added; see here.

πάνδεινα κακὰ πέπονθεν ἡ Ῥωμανία ὑπὸ τῶν Ἀράβων
μέχρι τοῦ νῦν.

All terrible evils has Romania suffered from the Arabs even until now.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959 AD) quoting the Chronicle of Theophanes (c.815 AD), De Administrando Imperio [Dumbarton Oaks Texts, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik, 1967, 2008, p.94, translation modified], color added

ἴωμεν, ἄνδρες, ἐπὶ τοὺς βαρβάρους τούσδε.

Let's go, men, against these barbarians!

Constantine XI Dragases, his last words, the Fifth Military Gate of Constantinople, May 29, 1453 [Greek Text, Laonikos Chalkokondyles, Λαόνικος Χαλκοκονδύλης, The Histories, Volume II, translated by Anthony Kaldellis, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Harvard University Press, 2014, p.192, translation modified], color added.


The only thing new in the world
is the history you don't know yet.

Harry S Truman

...che non si debbe mai lasciare seguire uno disordine per fuggire una guerra: perché la non si fugge ma si differisce a tuo disavvantaggio.

...that one should never permit a disorder to persist in order to avoid war, for war is not avoided thereby but merely deferred to one's own disadvantage...

Debbe dunque uno principe non avere altro obietto né altro pensiero né prendere cosa alcuna per sua arte fuora della guerra e ordini e disciplina di essa, perché quella è sola arte che si aspetta' a chi comanda...

A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of a ruler.

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince [Daniel Donno translation, Bantam, 1981, pp. 20, 53-54], Italian text, Il Principe, Nuova edizione a cura di Giorgio Inglese [Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino, 2013 e 2014, pp.24, 104], color added

Überall erscheint der Verstand als eine wesentlich mitwirkende Kraft, und so wird es denn begreiflich, wie das in seinen Erscheinungen so einfache, wenig zusammengesetzte kriegerische Wirken von Leuten ohne ausgezeichnete Verstandeskräfte nicht auf eine augezeichnete Art geleistet werden kann.

Everywhere intellect appears as an essential cooperative force; and thus we can understand how the work of War, although so plain and simple in its effects, can never be conducted with distinguished success by people without distinguished powers of the understanding.

Carl von Clausewitz, On War [translated by J.J. Graham, 1908, Penguin Classics, 1968, 1982, p.155], German text, Vom Kriege [herausgegeben von Wolfgang Pickert und Wilhelm Ritter von Schramm, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1963, 2013, p.43], color added



Teikoku kaigun no dentōtaru yasen ni hisshō
o kishite teki o kōgeki sen to su.

Kaku-in reisei ni zenryoku o tsukuse.

Let us go forward to certain victory in the traditional night attack of the Imperial Navy.

Let each one of us calmly do our utmost.

Vice Admiral Gun'ichi Mikawa, 三川 軍一 (1888-1981),
Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942

Si Vīs Pacem, Parā Bellum
If You Wish for Peace, Prepare for War.

Flavius Vegetius Renatus

Ῥέων ὁ χρόνος ἀκάθεκτα καὶ ἀεί τι κινούμενος παρασύρει καὶ παραφέρει πάντα τὰ ἐν γενέσει καὶ ἐς βυθὸν ἀφανείας καταποντοῖ ὅπου μὲν οὐκ ἄξια λόγου πράγματα, ὅπου δὲ μεγάλα τε καὶ ἄξια μνήμης, καὶ τά τε ἄδηλα φύων κατὰ τὴν τραγῳδίαν καὶ τὰ φανέντα κρυπτόμενος. ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε λόγος ὁ τῆς ἱστορίας ἔρυμα καρτερώτατον γίνεται τῷ τοῦ χρόνου ῥεύματι καὶ ἵστησι τρόπον τινὰ τὴν ἀκάθεκτον τούτου ῥοὴν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ γινόμενα πάντα, ὁπόσα ὑπερείληφε, ξυνέχει καὶ περισφίγγει καὶ οὐκ ἐᾷ διολισθαίνειν εἰς λήθης βυθούς.

The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright [Sophocles] says, it "brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest." Nevertheless, the discourse of History is a great bulwark against the stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion [Λήθη].

Anna Comnena (1083-1153), The Alexiad, translated by E.R.A. Sewter [Penguin Classics, 1969, p.17]; Greek text, Annae Comnenae, Alexias, Pars Prior, Prolegomena et Textus, Diether R. Reinsch and Athanasios Kambylis [Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co, Berlin, 2001, p.5]. Contemporary image of the Empress Maria, the Alan.

Not long afterwards King Ðū al-Makān became, as every creature must, dust within the Hand which created him, and it was as if he had never been. For time reaps all and does not remember; therefore let him who would know the fate which will befall his name in time to come, guard the fame of those who have passed before him into the room of death.

"The Tale of King Umar al-Numān," The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr. J.C. Mardrus, by Powys Mathers, Volume I, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964, 1972, 1986, pp.552-553; diacritic added to "Ðū al-Makān," , "Belongs to the Place"; see here.

This evil fortune, which generally attends extraordinary men in the management of great affairs, has been imputed to divers causes, that need not be here set down, when so obvious a one occurs, if what a certain writer observes be true, that when a great genius appears in the world the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

Jonathan Swift, "Essay on the Fates of Clergymen" [1728]

"History Instructing Youth,"
United States $1 Silver Certificate, "Educational Series," 1896

The Master said, One who studies the past to have new knowledge
can make a true teacher.

Confucius, Analects II:11, translation after Joanna C. Lee & Ken Smith [2010]


Most of the following reference items are perhaps not, strictly speaking, philosophy of history. The editorial intention originally was to provide some material of more general interest than the purely philosophical content of The Proceedings of the Friesian School to attract attention to the website. However, history provides countless examples for the application of ideas from both ethics and political economy. If philosophy is to be historically practical in the Socratic or Platonic sense, then it helps to know history. Political commitment is also an important characrteristic of the Friesian School. Therefore, there has been increasing use of the historical files for these purposes. Not all of history may be covered here, but a very extensive fragment of it certainly is.

Should a traveller, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men, wholly different from any with whom we were ever acquainted; men, who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or revenge; who knew no pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public spirit; we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falsehood, and prove him a liar, with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. And if we would explode any forgery in history, we cannot make use of a more convincing argument, than to prove, that the actions ascribed to any person are directly contrary to the course of nature, and that no human motives, in such circumstances, could ever induce him to such a conduct.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sect. VIII, Part I, p. 65 [Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1972, L.A. Selby-Bigge edition, p. 84]

The Master said, "I was not born with knowledge but,
loving antiquity, I am quick to seek it."

Confucius, Analects VII:19/20, translation after James Legge [1893], Arthur Waley [1938], D.C. Lau [1979], and Joanna C. Lee & Ken Smith [2010]

ὦ ξεῖν᾽, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

O Stranger, go tell the Lacedaemonians that here
we lie, obedient to their words.

Simonides of Ceos, Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος, Inscription on the grave of the Spartans at Thermopylae [The Persian Wars, Volume III, Books V-VII, Harvard, 1928, 2006, pp.544-545; color added]; ῥήμασι, rhémasi, often mistranslated as "laws," which takes the bitter edge off of it.

ἀγάλλεται ἡ πόλις καὶ ὅλη ἡ Ῥωμανία, χαίρεται ὁ κόσμος.
The City and the whole of Romania is delighted, the world rejoices.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959 AD), acclamation for Imperial banquet, De Ceremoniis, Book I, Chapter 65, "What it is necessary to observe at the dance, that is, at the banquet" [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, p.295]

History Reference Resources



Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved