How philosophy affects history

Today’s video-lecture is from this year’s National Classical Education Symposium. Our conference theme, “The Historian’s Craft,” provided ample room for both historians and other subject matter experts, who could speak to the ways in which history pertains to other disciplines. 

From Dr. Owen Anderson’s lecture, we learn that another discipline, philosophy, affects the ways in which we understand history. Dr. Anderson is a philosopher who has focused his scholarship on the underlying beliefs of the American regime, from the Declaration of Independence onward. 

As Anderson describes philosophy, beliefs concerning reality underlie all that we do as human beings, and “self-evident truths” are crucial to political and social life. Moreover, human thought and belief must proceed from how we know reality (epistemology) to what we know about reality (metaphysics) to what we do with what we know (ethics). That is, epistemology leads to metaphysics leads to ethics. 

With that philosophical outline in mind, Dr. Anderson reminds us that we must revisit our beliefs and assumptions, providing careful explanations for our most cherished beliefs—e.g.”that all men are created equal.” Each successive generation will inherently challenge the ‘received wisdom’ of their forbearers, and thus it would be advisable, even wise to produce a thoughtful philosophy that supports our interpretation of history.  

In short, a sound philosophy of history enables the deepest reflections on the meaning of our human experience. 

Dr. Anderson is professor of philosophy and religious studies at Arizona State University’s New College. A research fellow of the James Madison Program at Princeton and a prolific author, Dr. Anderson also serves as a Fellow of the Institute of Classical Education. 


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