The twentieth century has witnessed mounting interest in the meaning of history on the part of scholars and laymen alike. This is not a wholly new development, for man has always been inclined to seek the meaning of his own past in order to shed light on the present. But the intense interest of present day man in historical interpretation has not always characterized either scholarship nor the popular mind. The catastrophic events of the first half of the present century have given to the quest for meaning in history a new significance and urgency reflected in the increasing number of formal studies of both historians and philosophers devoted to the problem of historical interpretation.
While a philosophy of history may have been implicit in their systems of thought, it did not receive in the writings of Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, and Locke, that explicit treatment which has characterized so many of the great philosophies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Indeed, one may well conclude that nineteenth century philosophers showed a greater concern for the interpretation of history than did many of the more prominent historians who were seemingly content, under the influence of Ranke, to let “the facts speak for themselves.” It would thus seem that the current interest in the philosophical approach to the meaning of history has been inspired and nurtured by thinkers such as Hegel and Marx who claimed the field as their own.
Until quite recently the average graduate student in American universities received in the area of historical interpretation very little formal training which was truly philosophical in nature. Ranke’s influence was dominant to such an extent that few professors in graduate schools felt the necessity ...1
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