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Historicism has developed three divergent, though loosely related, meanings. Elements of all three of these can be found in the extensive writings of G.W.F. Hegel, one of the most influential philosophers of Nineteenth Century Europe, as well as in those of his most well-known successor, Karl Marx.

The historicist position proposed by Hegel is that there is no objective way to determine which of the various competing theories on a subject is correct. According to this view, in science, philosophy, or any other discipline, there are only the facts about who has believed what, and when they believed it. Hegel's famous aphorism, "Philosophy is the history of philosophy." describes it bluntly. See also Nihilism.

Karl Popper used the term in his influential books The Poverty of Historicism and The Open Society and Its Enemies, to mean: "an approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their primary aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the 'rhythms' or the 'patterns', the 'laws' or the 'trends' that underlie the evolution of history" (p. 3 of TPoH, italics in original). Karl Popper was referring to Hegel's theory of history, which he criticized extensively.

Most recently, Historicism has been used by post-modernist thinkers to describe the view that there is no absolute truth about deep philosophical questions that should stand for all time. Instead, historicism holds that there is only the history of philosophy or more generally, intellectual history, including the history of science and technology. This sense is sometimes termed New Historicism.

Finally, the term refers to the confessional Protestant form of prophetical interpretation which holds that prophecy was fulfilled throughout history and continues to be today, as opposed to other methods which limit the time frame of prophetical fulfillment to the past or future.

Relevant works

External links


  • Extracts from The Poverty of Historicism


  • The Hegel Society of America
  • Hegel in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Hegel page in 'The History Guide'

New Historicism

  • New Historicism Explained
  • Claes G. Ryn, Defining Historicism
  • M. D. Murphy, Historicism

Biblical Prophecy


Last updated: 02-09-2005 12:51:23
Last updated: 02-17-2005 09:08:28