3. Descent Of Man Revisited     

 
 
From Fisher's Lament 
To Kant's Challenge

  

Section 3.4




 
World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon

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 CHAPTERS:
 

 

 
 

 

3. Descent Of Man Revisited 
     3.1 Climbing Mt. Improbable: The Eonic Effect  
        3.1.1 An Evolution Formalism and The Eonic Model 
     3.2 History and Evolution: A Paradox  
        3.2.1 Huxley's Contradiction and Evolution #1 and #2 
        3.2.2 Deconstructing Flat History  
        3.2.3 Conflict Theories: Incredulity Toward 'Infranarratives' 
     3.3 An Unexpected Challenge to Darwinism  
        3.3.1 The Great Explosion   
        3.3.2 Measures of Evidence Density  
        3.3.3 A Photo Finish Test 
     3.4 From Fisher's Lament to Kant's Challenge 
        3.4.1 A Certain Strangeness: Beyond Space and Time? 

NOTES 
     3.5 A New Model of History: Eonic Evolution  
        3.5.1 A Gaian Matrix: Detecting A Global System  
        3.5.2 Stream and Sequence, Transition and Oikoumene
        3.5.3 An (Eonic) Outline of History
        3.5.4 World Line of The Eonic Observer

  

Next: 
 4. Idea For A Universal History

 
  
        

    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   3.4 From Fisher's Lament to Kant's Challenge

 

We have seen the basic pattern of the eonic effect. Now we need to construct an outline of world history to highlight in more detail the dynamic we have found, and to connect with the issue of causality and freedom, in a model of the evolution of freedom. And this we will find anticipated in the works of Kant. We might first consider Fisher’s lament, about the randomness of world history. We have found that our data falsifies this claim of randomness. We can look beyond Fisher’s lament to a classic essay by Kant, one with a subtle contradiction: on the one hand it posits a theory of social conflict, an ancestor to Darwinian thinking, and on the other proposes an ‘idea for the evolution of freedom’, and asks historians of the future to help him find it.

If we enquire into ‘what runs history’, into the possibility of any pattern, structure or law, we are left to examine the rush of statistics and wonder if it is sufficient to account for the chronicles of kings and commoners, the flowering of civilizations, and the evolution of religious forms. We are entering the forbidden zone, large-scale historical patterns, and have to deal with a considerable dialectic. Thus, the historian H. A. L. Fisher, in one of the most quoted statements of modern historiography insists that there is no meaningful structure to be found in the random ness of historical process:

Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations; only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen.[i]

Increased perspective in the rising tide of historical data forces us to consider the counter-evidence to Fisher’s Lament . Undoubtedly the influence of Darwinism is at work in Fisher’s despairing rejection of any ‘idea of a universal history’. The exclamations from the ‘iron cage’ of scientism in the wake of the seeming triumph of universal causal science seem to conclude the matter. But the triumph would seem premature, and the reign of Darwinian assumptions short-lived. History remains to be discovered. We live in a unique period of history, one in which the record of archaeology has begun to speak. Foreshortened perspectives of the historical have proven misleading.

Even as Fisher wrote, the record of civilization was crossing a minimum threshold of five thousand years to show a pattern of the type Fisher could not find emerging in fixer. We find an answer to the issue of historical rhythm, answers, but what was the question? Confusion over the nature of historiography and historical theory makes the idea of a science of history or interpretation in terms of ‘historical laws’ uncertain.[ii]

Fisher’s lament, with a tragic flourish, was perhaps a pessimistic or proto-postmodernist reaction to the horrors of the First World War, and the shock this created in the hopes of so many in automatic progress . His evocative statement was made in the wake of nineteenth century ideas of unlimited progress, and earlier ideas of universal history and is an indirect expression of the view that there is no discoverable historical pattern or direction. Beside it lie the many attempts to challenge the great philosophies of history that arose in the Enlightenment passing into the phase of German Idealism, then followed by efforts to approach its study scientifically, or the reaction to philosophies of history in the various forms of historicism , beginning with Herder. The current postmodern critique, the ‘incredulity’ toward metanarratives, joins the list of the skeptical judgments.

Fisher’s lament bundles together four, or more, quite separate concepts, that of rhythm, plot, pattern, and predetermination that do not necessarily stand or fall together. That historical patterned emergence can also be a series of chaotic ‘emergencies’, such as the French Revolution , is still another crisscross of meaning. A rhythm need have no plot, and a dramatic improvisation might show little or no predetermination, and yet operate under the constraint of a conditioned future.

The hold of Fisher’s lament on many quotation-mongers and historical handwringers, as the magic sword to slay the dragon of macrohistory, is also a testimony to the difficulties of the project of Universal History, and its cousin, the attempt to find laws of history. Although the trend of current historical thinking, in the afterglow of the ‘positive challenges’ of positivism, is against the perception of meaningful historical structure, the plain fact is that the rise of the philosophy of history is a foundational moment for secularism and the understanding of modernity. If anything the rise Darwinian scientism is regressive.

The clue to the whole question lies in a simple question and a paradox that it creates: Is there a science of history? This forces the simplest dilemma: if there is such a science, there can be no freedom. We might seek the resolution by asking if there is some ‘causality’ of freedom that should accompany its appearance. If so we must find some evidence of its evolution. The study of history theoretically has proven intractable but world history must somewhere show at least some hint of resolving this field of contradictions. In fact, as we examine world history once again with this in mind, we suddenly discover that theoretical derivation matches the empirical record. This question was the object of Karl Popper’s strictures on what he called ‘historicism’, and Isaiah Berlin ’s discourse on ‘historical inevitability’. But the original version of this thinking appears in the philosopher Kant, who proposes it as the gateway to the philosophy of history.

One of the deepest currents of modern thought, beside the rise of theories of evolution, lies in the heritage of the philosophy of history, whose existence is justified by default in the failure to find a ‘science of history’. No use complaining that science has replaced philosophy or that Darwin explains everything. Our simple model with its eonic mainline and discrete freedom sequence stages a lightweight transition through this terrain. Strictly speaking our model based on a stream and sequence contrast, but then in this chapter has annexed the ideas of ‘causality and freedom’ as an adjunct, which requires explanation in the imperfect match. It is also empirical and can’t be used for complex secondary deductions, but we can manage a few hunches with our historical black box, and the embedded freedom sequence tweaks the issues very directly.

We have found a solution to the paradox of causal determinism and the emergence of freedom in history: we see a macro oscillator shifting gears in its dialectic of ‘degrees of freedom’. Beautiful. Our analysis blends in with a classic theme of the philosophy of history seen in the Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason, with its discussion of the various antinomies of reason, the so-called Third Antinomy being the key to our historical logic.  

This legacy of philosophic history, like a stream flowing into a greater current, yet with deep roots in antiquity, casts an ambiguous glance at the sacred lore from which it is spawned, yet accompanies the secular music as a leitmotiv of modernism, despite an ambiguous status on the boundary of metaphysics. Challenged in the mood of science, yet still unchallenged by any science of history, it endures in parallel to the claims against philosophy made by the tide of empirical research. Rising in tandem with all things modern and the pandemonium of a new era of world history, its antiquated reputation is belied by its persistent echo in the mind of the historian, and its eternal smile as the masthead to all ideas of evolution.

The onset of positivism is itself graced with the metaphysical historicism of epochs codified in the philosopher of history, Comte. But if Comte is just such a philosopher of history and all his epigones are shipwrecked trying to do a science of history in the age of Positivism, we should backtrack to the source of the stream to see where we went wrong. Scientists tend to be unconscious Comtean historicists, and assume the epochal scientific revolution will overtake history. The future is unknown, but if that means that unrestricted Newtonianism as total causal explanation will suffice, failure is likely, as we can see already. The Darwin debate shows the train wreck coming. The work of Kant produced a means to mediate this problem, without derailing into anti-science. It is no accident our ‘system-agent’ two-level discourse has a family resemblance to the Kantian rubric.

As we move to examine theories of evolution we find the philosophy of history’s seemingly outdated, almost archaic, charm resurfacing as a renewed challenge, and an obstacle to their completion. If a theory of evolution moves to enlarge its domain to include the whole, then it is forced to reckon with the self-reference of the thinker pondering his own evolution. No other grounds are required for the persistence of this mode. The idea of evolution is a feckless giant, and we should propose, in a gesture more than humor, a comeback of philosophical history, a nimble rascal, to leap and ride piggyback, wishing to direct traffic, to the consternation of proponents of post-philosophical science. Indeed, we should notice at once that the philosophy of history is itself a part of our universal evolution, as is the idea of evolution, that is, the evolution of the idea of evolution.

Displaced in the rise of the positive sciences by the idea of evolution , the philosophy of history becomes one of its first passengers. For the philosophy of history is the history of philosophy, and this shows the signature of its own (eonic ) evolution. We can offer no real differentiation, then, of the two subjects, or any decisive means of marking the transition between boundaries of rival disciplines. If Darwinism is free of metaphysics, then let it be science. But we have seen that it fails three times, in the classic antinomies given from Kantian Dialectic.

The philosophy of history is born, reborn, at the dawn of modernity as a fellow traveler, becoming visible as early as the sixteenth century and finds its classic realization in the writings of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his essay Idea For A Universal History  from a Cosmopolitan Point of View:

Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment.[iii]

This hope is confirmed by the pattern we can exhibit, and we can easily claim the eonic effect a resolution of Kant’s Challenge, in the process exposing a difficulty in Kant’s own analysis. We could derive the eonic effect from this paragraph. The inherent contradiction in this paragraph does indeed generate its own historical dynamic. And the eonic effect answers at once to the question asked. Kant’s essay is constructed around a classic ambiguity on the one hand it seems to propose a solution to his own question in terms of the idea of ‘asocial sociability’, and at the same time throw the question into the future, for an historian with greater perspective to discover an aim of nature in the chaos of historical happenstance. Beside this projection into the future of this wish to discover ‘nature’s secret plan’, Kant also relates the issue to the idea of progress toward a ‘perfect civil constitution’. Kant’s essay seems almost perfectly tuned to the eonic effect, without realizing it, for our discovery of ‘historical evolution’, as we will see, throws light directly on both of these issues, exhibiting the reality of ‘nature’s secret plan’ behind the emergence of civilization and more specifically the directionality in the development of civil government. As we proceed we will see the remarkable way that the eonic sequence demonstrates a law of progress, and of the concealed teleology behind the evolution of culture in world history. And the particular pattern of political development inside this progression will exhibit the way in which emergent democracy is bound up in the eonic effect itself.

As we examine world history the data emerges clearly to resolve Kant’s Challenge in unexpected fashion. We have the framework to proceed with an outline of history as the ‘evolution of freedom’, starting in the next chapter. The great irony here is that we will see Kant caught up most beguilingly in the very turning point that constitutes one aspect of his problem’s solution. The answer needs just a bit more time and perspective. It is a beautiful prophecy and proof of the power of his system of critiques.

Kant’s essay, as a ‘minor’ work, is actually one of the most influential of modern history, for it enters on cat’s paws into the whole struggle of modern philosophy of history and ideology. It seems to foretell the next two critiques, and is a deceptive work in the sense of giving consideration to what Kant calls ‘asocial sociability’, but is really pursuing a different issue, in the process asking a question. Many have answers to questions of history, Kant, with a curious brilliance, had the presence of mind to but ask, and leave some answer to the future, for he must have sensed that he was given inadequate data. The essay arises just after the first critique, and yet seems to foretell the next two.

Asocial Sociability Kant’s thinking is ambiguous, and this contradiction is perfectly apt for perspective on history. On the one hand he proposes an answer to his implicit question, or challenge. And yet on the other he throws the question into the future. His ‘solution’ is the idea of asocial sociability, which is conveniently one of the root ideas of social conflict that, next to Adam Smith’s economism, moves to influence Darwinism. The irony here is that as we answer Kant’s Challenge we resolve the root idea of conflict histories that beset the denizens of flat history. Kant’s instincts are sound, he senses his solution requires a larger framework of data to be resolved. He is right.

The unsuspected significance of this work shows us something very elegant about our understanding of history, if we can manage the dangers of historical directionality, and its teleological implications, which we can successfully evade with our ‘discrete-continuous’ model. Kant created a critical system, yet was so curiously wry as to propose not a Critique of Historical Reason, the curious lot of his successor Dilthey (Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism being one attempt at this book), but an Idea for a Universal History. We shall have to hope the first book, still unwritten, appears in the attempt at the second.[iv]

Our treatment of Kant’s Challenge  will emerge over the course of the text, but at the same time let us note that we have already resolved the question, in essence, almost without trying. We can say that the eonic pattern satisfies, to a fuzzy first approximation of the Universal Historian, a different but related question to that which Kant posed, as we see in broadest scope that the solution is within the range of the cycl ical driver of an evolutionary emergentism. Note Kant’s wording. It is very similar to our distinction of historical determination  and free action, macro and micro.

Within two centuries the necessary data is emerging for the first time to resolve Kant’s Challenge in unexpected fashion. Further, our brief look at modernity, the evolution of democracy, in terms of the eonic sequence, shows us something spectacular. We should not that, strangely, we have found the first paragraph of Kant’s essay entirely to the point, the consideration of ‘asocial sociability’ somewhat beside the point.

Kant’s Essay and Conflict Theories Kant’s essay is beguilingly useful because it is really a debate with itself: it proposes a conflict theory in classic form, asocial sociability, then also proposes an abstract resolution of that with a question about a teleological resolution of conflict theories. Kant is asking the future for the data to transcend his conflict theory and, remarkably, the eonic effect provides just that. We will confine our use of Kant to the first paragraph of his essay.

Nature’s Secret Plan Kant’s famous essay also challenges us to uncover ‘nature’s secret plan’, and the eonic effect powerfully shows that plan in action. This language is suggestive of design thinking, and we should be wary of the sense of ‘agency’ that we ascribe to ‘nature’. However, in practice the point is clear, and we can suddenly catch a glimpse of what can only be called a hidden design to historical evolution.  

 Progress Toward a Civil Constitution Another aspect of Kant’s Challenge is to document the ‘progress toward a civil constitution’, and the eonic effect powerfully shows a strong correlation with just this, and we have just suggested that democracy itself is bound up in the eonic sequence, as it seems to generate the first beginnings of democracy in both the Axial Age and in modernity (which makes us suspicious that the earliest stage of civilization shows an earlier phase of its emergence).

This idea flows into the vacuum of archaeological data, data now showing us that Kant’s original idea is the right one. The great irony here is that we see Kant caught up most beguilingly in the very turning point that constitutes one aspect of his problem’s solution. The answer needs just a bit more time and perspective. It is a beautiful prophecy and proof of the power of his system of critiques.

Kant’s essay, as a ‘minor’ work, is actually one of the most influential of modern history, for it enters on cat’s paws into the whole struggle of modern philosophy of history and ideology. It seems to foretell the next two critiques, and is a deceptive work in the sense of giving consideration to what Kant calls ‘asocial sociability’, but is really pursuing a different issue, in the process asking a question. Many have answers to questions of history, Kant, with a curious brilliance, had the presence of mind to but ask, and leave some answer to the future, for he must have sensed that he was given inadequate data. The essay arises just after the first critique, and yet seems to foretell the next two.

The unsuspected significance of this work shows us something very elegant about our understanding of history, if we can manage the dangers of historical directionality, and its teleological implications, which we can successfully evade with our ‘discrete-continuous’ model. Kant created a critical system, yet was so curiously wry as to propose not a Critique of Historical Reason, the curious lot of his successor Dilthey (Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism being one attempt at this book), but an Idea for a Universal History. We shall have to hope the first book, still unwritten, appears in the attempt at the second.

Our treatment of Kant’s Challenge  will emerge over the course of the text, but at the same time let us note that we have already resolved the question, in essence, almost without trying. We can say that the eonic pattern satisfies, to a fuzzy first approximation of the Universal Historian, a different but related question to that which Kant posed, as we see in broadest scope that the solution is within the range of the cyclical driver of an evolutionary emergentism. Note Kant’s wording. It is very similar to our distinction of historical determination and free action, macro and micro.

We can easily resolve the question of directionality, but not fully that of teleology. Directionality, seen in the evidence of past times, expresses the phenomenal representation of some inferred teleological process, whose outcome, or telos, however, is beyond observation, and in any case a timeless unknown with its foot in the future. Of this we can know nothing as our eonic system is seen, looking backwards, to have proceeded toward the present in the recursive approximations we see in the eonic sequence. And we isolated one theme of that progression as an ‘evolution of freedom’, as an empirical study, without committing ourselves to any generalization beyond our present. Our approach is indirect, and the reason is the danger of premature teleological metaphysics, which ends in limbo if we give it an answer without an ending, which requires some statement about the future and/or the eonic sequence. But that very caution is implied by Kant’s essay.

A Noumenal Mystery Our eonic model almost automatically produces a structure isomorphic to Kant’s distinction of noumenon and phenomenon, and it does so deftly using different concepts and without any of the complications that haunt the original. Isomorphic, but in a different context, large-scale history. Since this was serendipitous, and unasked for, we are left to wonder what this means. The problem is that history is all of a piece, phenomenon, including our eonic sequence. And yet this sequence stages the hard evidence of the ‘uncaused freedom emergence factor’ inside a temporal oscillation. The long lost mediating factor between the phenomenon and the noumenon suddenly appears, where least expected, in history itself. We must suspect that the ‘teleological’ aspect is beyond the limits of our representations, noumenal, as all that we see is phenomenon, directionality, a stupendous oscillation in the degrees of freedom of the system execution.

That the dynamic behind eonic evolution should stand veiled in the noumenal is a severe caution against the reification of our empirical framework into ‘theory’. Our answer therefore will be about directionality as evidence of possible teleology. Directionality means that successive transitions show ‘connected sequence’, still far short of declaring teleology, since we are not at the end of time, or out of time. It is a reasonable operational assumption to conclude nature shows teleological processes as long we don’t presume to project this thinking on the unknown, and reckon the ‘snafu of present action’ seen in the Oedipus Paradox. With this caveat, we should accept our own version of Kant’s challenge. Our study is of a phenomenon we will call the eonic effect , a temporal subset, due to the nature of the evidence, or lack of it, of a pattern of universal history.

The pattern of the eonic effect is not a philosophic solution to a problem, but an archaeological finding, partial in the sense that a shard of some lost whole is discovered empirically. Our pattern for all intents and purposes answers the quest initiated by Kant, seen in the subtle wording of his remarkable formulation, itself correlated with the pattern, that we should attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, to discern a regular movement in it.

 

    Notes

   Web:  chap3_4.htm

 

[i] The philosopher, and critic of historicism, Karl Popper offered this quote as a challenge to Toynbee. H. L. Fisher, History of Europe (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1935), vol. I, p. vii. Fisher continues, “This is not a doctrine of cynicism and despair. The fact of progress is written plain and large on the page of history; but progress is not a law of nature.” It is the basis for Popper’s discussion of ‘historicism’, cf. Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), Vol. II, pp.269-80. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History ( New York : Oxford , 19576), abridged by D. Somervell, Vol. I, p. 445, Vol. II, p.266.

[ii] On the philosophy of history, cf. Hans Meyerhoff (ed.), The Philosophy of History in Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 1959), William Dray, Laws and Explanation in History (New York: Oxford, 1957), W. Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History (1951), Patrick Gardiner (ed), The Philosophy of History (1974), Geoffrey Barraclough, Main Trends in History (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1991), R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1956), Mathew Nitecki et al. History and Evolution (Albany: State University of New York, 1992), Haskell Fain, Between Philosophy and History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), Trygve Tholfsen, Ideology and Revolution in Modern Europe (New York: Columbia, 1984).

[iii] Hans Reiss, Kant’s Political Writings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 41.

[iv] Theodore Platinga, Historical Understanding in the Thought of Wilhelm Dilthey (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), Thomas Powers et al. (ed.), From Kant to Weber (Malabar, Florida: Krieger, 1999)

 

 
 


 

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Last modified: 09/21/2010