Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 March 2021
Philosophy of History
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844– 1900)
Nietzsche's On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (1874) is a guidebook for how an individual should develop his or her own vision of the history in which they stand. Nietzsche's reputation as the calling upon absolute individualism in decision making squares with the understanding of Rousseau, as well as, of course, other thinkers in any initial phases of a metaparadigm. But, the clarity of his formula for constituting a meaningful history for oneself is unparalleled. I will show that formula in Hayden White's spiral return to that theory in our current metaparadigm in his The Practical Past (2014), which rather than a menu to follow, carries out this exercise himself, in a third phasal self-inquiry.
There are three steps to Nietzsche's model for a self-formulated history. The first is to select monumental events or event-periods that in a chronological line connect you to that ongoing societal history of which you are a part. As a metaphor, one could call this a discernment of a chain of mountains. That is, the second aspect of the model is to go down the slopes of those mountains, discerning a plethora of factual events that explain the reasoning that enables you to understand in a comprehensive fashion why “that mountain” is so vital for the chronological of which you are a part. Nietzsche calls that exercise the antiquarian, a practice by some historians that is isolate in itself, simply a pursuit of certain lines of facts without a collocating concept to a larger whole of which it is a member. For example, coin collectors of a period, or, war historians of a period. The third step is coexistent with the initial two, which is to be guided by a critical understanding (or theory) in your selection of the mountain chain and the facts that compose its slopes.
Armed with this knowledge, one is prepared, in Nietzsche's understanding, to change history as one sees his or her duty insofar as they themselves are “agents” of history.