“Post Scriptum”: Permanent Seminar

May,  22, 2024


Luke David O'Sullivan

Associate Professor,

Department of Political Science,

National University of Singapore,

Faculty of Art and Social Sciences

[email protected]


Title: "Categories, History, and Historiography".

History deals with individual events or periods. The collapse of the Soviet Union or the Cold War era can never be repeated. But this is is why history as a genre of thinking has traditionally been deprecated; it did not deal in universals. This view is traceable to the ancient world; it can be found in the thought of Plato and Aristotle. Their influence on subsequent Western thought ensured that philosophical emphasis remained on knowledge of universals. Medieval thought insisted that there is no science of singulars, and modernity inherited this view. Kant and Hegel remained fixated on so-called universal history, narratives of the past that treated it as important only insofar as it revealed a general plan or design at work. By the later twentieth century this way of thinking about the past had become deprecated as 'metanarrative'; a story about the past that was really designed to legitimate some other agenda. Such metanarratives, it was alleged, were becoming obsolete. The experience of the twenty-first century suggests, however, that metanarrative has not in fact gone away, and that history as the study of events in their individuality remains of marginal philosophical interest. There is reason to think that this situation is undesirable insofar as discourses about the past that legitimate aggressive political behaviour can end up imposing avoidable costs on a global scale. Better-informed historical conversations are thus one part of the puzzle in creating a more peaceful future.



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