Scientific Trends in Western Historical Writings

Q. Find out various schools and approaches in western scientific historiography?

The philosophers of the Enlightenment treated the past as barbarian and ignore it as such. Also they considered human nature as uniform and static. These attitudes need to be changed so that further progress in historical writing could be attained. Romantic idealism, utilitarianism, materialistic interpretation and positivism contributed to changes in these approaches to the study of history. They marked different stages in the evolution of scientific history.

i) The essence of romanticism was the glorification of the instincts and emotions as opposed to the worship of reason and intellect, associated with enlightenment.

(ii) There were elements such as deep veneration of nature, contempt formalism, a sentimental love for the humble sections and a flaming zeal for remaking the world.

(iii) Rousseau (1712-99), the French philosopher, was the founder of romanticism who adored the freedom of the individual, admired the innocence of the primitive men and believed that tyranny and wickedness were associated with the advances in civilization.

(iv) It was Immanuel Kant who gave inspiration to the movement called romantic idealism.

(v) Kant influenced by Rousseau completed his works, the Critique of Pure Reason, Principles of Metaphysic Morals and Critique of Practical Reason. In these works, he elucidated his philosophy of romantic idealism.

(vi) He stated that as the laws of nature are of importance for a scientist, the plans of nature are of interest to the historian.

(vii) Kant further asserts that the purpose of nature in creating a man and giving him reason is to develop human freedom.

(viii) History represents progress towards rationality.

(ix) The agency that brings about this progress is the discontent of man with his position in life, which drives him to overthrow the social system.


(i) The leading system of thought in England in the early nineteenth century was utilitarianism, founded by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). He explains his philosophy in his work, Principles of Morals and Legislation.
ii) Utilitarianism derives its name from his theory that the supreme test to which every belief and institution should be made to conform is that of utility or usefulness. This test, he defined, as that contributing to the greatest happiness of the great number.

 (ii) The mainspring of human action is the desire to gain pleasure and to avoid pain.

(iv) Therefore, society should leave to each of its members complete freedom to follow his own enlightened self-interest, subject to respect for the interest of fellow beings.

(v) In directly this philosophy contributed to the rise of individualism.

(vi) John Stuart Mill a disciple of Bentham was the greatest of the utilitarian philosophers.

i) The nearest approach to a liberal and practical  philosophy on the continent  of Europe  was positivism as utilitarianism  in England was.

ii) It marked a reaction against playing up the role of particular nations and individuals in history.

(iii) Positivism takes its name from Comtes doctrine that the only knowledge of any value is positive knowledge or knowledge, which come from sciences.

(iv) This represented a humanistic view of history. Auguste Comtes works were:  The course of positive philosophy and the system  of positivistic politics.

(v) He introduced into the study of society the same scientific observation .e
the laws, which prevail in physics, chemistry and physiology, Burckhards
and Mommsen too belonged to the positivist school.

Materialistic Interpretation

i) The Industrial Revolution and democratic movements stimulated the study of economic and social history.

(ii) Karl Marx, the founder of scientific socialism, expounded the economy interpretation of history.

(iii) Influenced by his mentor Hegel, he developed a new theory.

(iv) He formed an intimate association with Friedrich Engels and their combined efforts produced the path breaking work Communist Manifesto.

(v) In 1867, he published the first volume of his great work on political economy, Das Capital.

(vi) Both these works have changed the course of social sciences domain across the globe as a whole and there emerged a school of historians with emphasis on the cult of materialistic interpretation of history.

(vii) Every fundamental historical development has been the result of alterations in the methods of producing and exchanging goods.

(viii) The dynamic process of historical evolution will continue by a series
of victories of the new order over the old, until the perfect goal of communism is attained.

(ix) History comprises of struggle between classes.

(x) Communism, which is the perfect goal of historical evolution, classless society in which no one lives by owning, all live by working and all get according to their needs

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