Idealism and History

Now, to understand that history is a real, self-contained discipline, one must not, like Fukuyama, pretend to see the world as a heap of disconnected "brute facts." (No one really sees the world that way, or they couldn't walk down the street. But they may adopt a philosophical stance pretending that they do. Remember, as Collingwood wrote, ‘A person may think he is a poached egg; that will not make him one: but it will affect his conduct, and for the worse.’) It is because the world is intelligible, and facts are not atomic by internally related, that we can follow a narrative and understand how one concrete event leads to another. And the philosophy that says the world is that way is Idealism.

Of course, admitting that the world is inherently intelligible is something most modern philosophers have been loathe to do. Because once you start thinking that way, you might start to wonder if there is a reason it is inherently intelligible. And you know where thinking like that could lead!


  1. So I am a non-philosopher, non-historian who likes to think he takes philosophy and history seriously rather than dismissively. Being in that position, I'm left wondering -

    - I think that I think that the world is intelligible in the way you describe

    - I've never thought of myself as an idealist

    How do I square this? Am I more of an idealist than I thought I was, or are these ways of thinking about reality less idealist than this seems to imply?

    Facts don't have lives independent of narratives, but I think there is a sense in which things out there in the world are independently out there in the world and are understood differently depending on how they're fit into different narratives. I don't know what to call those "things". They are often called "facts", but I wouldn't want to use that term and imply that somehow they're intelligible "on their own".

    Maybe this is what I'm struggling with - clearly "facts" aren't intelligible "on their own", but clearly there are also some elements of these narratives that different narratives recognize and explain differently. If these things are amenable to multiple narratives they certainly seem to have some independent existence.

  2. Reading Feser's a. through f., I would propose a g. which I find myself in:

    g. The world is at least partially (and so far only partially) intelligible to us and because of that we really don't have grounds to say anything about the intelligibility of the world itself. Noting its partial intelligibility, and noting that it sure feels like it becomes more intelligible as we apply certain methods to understanding it, a guess that the world itself is completely intelligible seems like a reasonable guess. But it's still a guess. It seems worth proceeding as if that guess were true, without trying to prove the guess - which seems at the moment like an impossible task.

  3. 'Maybe this is what I'm struggling with - clearly "facts" aren't intelligible "on their own"'

    Daniel, this is because there are no facts "on their own": the "bare," brute fact is a myth of positivism! Facts always and only exist as part of a world, and that world is always a world of experience.

  4. Right - but as I go on to note, there are obviously "things" out there that are woven into multiple different narratives.

    Their character as "fact" is obviously dependent on whatever narrative we're speaking from, but clearly there's some "thing" which multiple narratives are grabbing at, which implies some independent existence.

    We might not want to call that a "fact", but there seems to be something there.

    In other words - to say we experience the world through a narrative is not to say that there aren't things with independent existence. We may not have direct access to those things - we might only have access through narrative. But the fact that multiple narratives seem to be remarking on the same thing in many cases seems to suggest some degree of independent existence.

    Let's say all narrative-weaving minds were wiped out tonight. There are things out there that would still be things, I think. It may not make sense to call them "facts" anymore, of course.

  5. OK, Daniel, see my later post: Idealism absolutely does not mean that the world is "all in our heads" or that "there is no external reality." There is not a single major idealist philosopher who ever held either of those positions.


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