Philosophy of History: Metaphysics and Epistemology

Some of the most important questions historians have to answer are “What happened in the past?” and “Why did it happen?” and the epistemological question “How do we know?” or, more modestly, “How are our historical hypotheses epistemically justified?” It is important to note that answers to these questions require not only epistemological but also metaphysical, especially ontological, investigations. Due to the failures of speculative metaphysics of history (in the style of Augustine, Hegel, and Marx), metaphysical questions were frowned upon by recent philosophy of history. Thus, the focus has been on questions of logical form, conceptual analysis, and methodology (analytical philosophy of history) on the one hand and on questions of the literary and rhetorical forms of historical representations on the other hand (narrativism). In both research programs, the reality of history is in danger of disappearing. By discussing recent attempts to reduce the philosophy of history to the epistemology of historiography, I will argue that philosophy of history and scientific historiography are in need of metaphysical, especially ontological, investigations without falling back into the fallacies of a speculative metaphysics of history. Finally, the fertility of such enquiries shall be illustrated by raising an important question, namely, “How close can the contact with the historical past be?” and by attempting an answer.