Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Philosophy of History (part III) Conceptual History


 Conceptual history

The post-war German historian Reinhart Koselleck made important contributions to the philosophy of history that are largely independent from the other sources of philosophy of history Koselleck contributed to a “conceptual and critical theory of history” (2002, 2004). His major compendium, with Brunner and Conze, of the history of concepts of history in the German-speaking world is one of the major expressions of this work (Brunner, Conze, and Koselleck 1972-97). Koselleck believes there are three key tasks for the metahistorian or philosopher: to identify the concepts that are either possible or necessary in characterizing history; to locate those concepts within the context of the social and political discourses and conflicts of the time period; and to critically evaluate various of these concepts for their usefulness in historical analysis.

Key examples that Koselleck develops include “space of experience” and “horizon of expectation'’. Examples of metahistorical categories in Koselleck’s account include “capacity to die and capacity to kill,” “friend and foe,” “inside and outside,” and “master and servant”. Koselleck represents these conceptual oppositions as representing conditions of possibility of any representation of history.

A large part of Koselleck’s work thus involves identifying and describing various kinds of historical concepts. In order to represent history, it is necessary to make use of a vocabulary that distinguishes the things we need to talk about; and historical concepts permit these identifications. This in turn requires both conceptual and historical treatment: how the concepts are understood, and how they have changed over time. Christophe Bouton encapsulates Koselleck’s approach in these terms: “[It is an] inquiry into the historical categories that are used in, or presupposed by, the experience of history at its different levels, as events, traces, and narratives”. Further, Bouton argues that Koselleck also brings a critical perspective to the concepts that he discusses: he asks the question of validity. To what extent do these particular concepts work well to characterize history?

What this amounts to is the idea that history is the result of conceptualization of the past on the part of the people who tell it—professional historians, politicians, partisans, and ordinary citizens. (It is interesting to note that Koselleck’s research in the final years of his career focused on the meaning of public monuments, especially war memorials.) It is therefore an important, even crucial, task to investigate the historical concepts that have been used to characterize the past. A key concept that was of interest to Koselleck was the idea of “modernity”. This approach might seem to fall within the larger field of intellectual history; but Koselleck and other exponents believe that the historical concepts in use actually play a role as well in the concrete historical developments that occur within a period.

It is worth noticing that history comes into Koselleck’s of notion Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history)  in two ways. Koselleck is concerned to uncover the logic and semantics of the concepts that have been used to describe historical events and processes; and he is interested in the historical evolution of some of those concepts over time. Numerous observers emphasize the importance of political conflict in Koselleck’s account of historical concepts: concepts are used by partisans to define the field of battle over values and loyalties . More generally, Koselleck’s aim is to excavate the layers of meaning that have been associated with key historical concepts in different historical periods.

Conceptual history may appear to have a Kantian background—an exploration of the “categories” of thought on the basis of which alone history is intelligible. But this appears not to be Koselleck’s intention, and his approach is not a priori. Rather, he looks at historical concepts on a spectrum of abstraction, from relatively close to events (the French Revolution) to more abstract (revolutionary change). Moreover, he makes rigorous attempts to discover the meanings and uses of these concepts in their historical contexts.

Koselleck’s work defines a separate space within the field of the philosophy of history. It has to do with meanings in history, but it is neither teleological nor hermeneutic. It takes seriously the obligation of the historian excavate the historical facts with scrupulous rigour, but it is not empiricist or reductionist. It emphasizes the dependence of “history” on the conceptual resources of those who live history and those who tell history, but it is not post-modernist or relativist. Koselleck provides an innovative and constructive way of formulating the problem of historical knowledge.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Philosophy of History (part II)




 European philosophy of history

The topic of history has been treated frequently in modern European philosophy. A long, largely German, tradition of thought looks at history as a total and comprehensible process of events, structures, and processes, for which the philosophy of history can serve as an interpretive tool. This approach, speculative and meta-historical, aims to discern large, embracing patterns and directions in the unfolding of human history, persistent notwithstanding the erratic back-and-forth of particular historical developments. Modern philosophers raising this set of questions about the large direction and meaning of history include Vico, Herder, and Hegel. A somewhat different line of thought in this  tradition that has been very relevant to the philosophy of history is the hermeneutic tradition of the human sciences. Through their emphasis on the “hermeneutic circle” through which humans undertake to understand the meanings created by other humans—in texts, symbols, and actions—hermeneutic philosophers such as Schleiermacher (1838), Dilthey (1860–1903), and Ricoeur (2000) offer philosophical arguments for emphasizing the importance of narrative interpretation within our understanding of history.

Universal or historical human nature?

Human beings make history; but what is the fundamental nature of the human being? Is there one fundamental “human nature,” or are the most basic features of humanity historically conditioned ? Can the study of history shed light on this question? When we study different historical epochs, do we learn something about unchanging human beings—or do we learn about fundamental differences of motivation, reasoning, desire, and collectivity? Is humanity a historical product? Giambattista Vico's New Science (1725) offered an interpretation of history that turned on the idea of a universal human nature and a universal history . Vico's interpretation of the history of civilization offers the view that there is an underlying uniformity in human nature across historical settings that permits explanation of historical actions and processes. The common features of human nature give rise to a fixed series of stages of development of civil society, law, commerce, and government: universal human beings, faced with recurring civilizational challenges, produce the same set of responses over time. Two things are worth noting about this perspective on history: first, that it simplifies the task of interpreting and explaining history (because we can take it as given that we can understand the actors of the past based on our own experiences and nature); and second, it has an intellectual heir in twentieth-century social science theory in the form of rational choice theory as a basis for comprehensive social explanation.

Johann Gottfried Herder offers a strikingly different view about human nature and human ideas and motivations. Herder argues for the historical contextuality of human nature in his work, Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity (1791). He offers a historicized understanding of human nature, advocating the idea that human nature is itself a historical product and that human beings act differently in different periods of historical developmen. Herder's views set the stage for the historicist philosophy of human nature later found in such nineteenth century figures as Hegel and Nietzsche. His perspective too prefigures an important current of thought about the social world in the late twentieth century, the idea of the “social construction” of human nature and social identities (Anderson ; Hacking, Foucault ).

Does history possess directionality?

Philosophers have raised questions about the meaning and structure of the totality of human history. Some philosophers have sought to discover a large organizing theme, meaning, or direction in human history. This may take the form of an effort to demonstrate how history enacts a divine order, or reveals a large pattern (cyclical, teleological, progressive), or plays out an important theme (for example, Hegel's conception of history as the unfolding of human freedom ). The ambition in each case is to demonstrate that the apparent contingency and arbitrariness of historical events can be related to a more fundamental underlying purpose or order.

This approach to history may be described as hermeneutic; but it is focused on interpretation of large historical features rather than the interpretation of individual meanings and actions. In effect, it treats the sweep of history as a complicated, tangled text, in which the interpreter assigns meanings to some elements of the story in order to fit these elements into the larger themes and motifs of the story.

A recurring current in this approach to the philosophy of history falls in the area of theodicy or eschatology: religiously inspired attempts to find meaning and structure in history by relating the past and present to some specific, divinely ordained plan. Theologians and religious thinkers have attempted to find meaning in historical events as expressions of divine will. One reason for theological interest in this question is the problem of evil; thus Leibniz's Theodicy attempts to provide a logical interpretation of history that makes the tragedies of history compatible with a benevolent God's will. In the twentieth century, theologians such as Maritain , Rust , and Dawson  offered systematic efforts to provide Christian interpretations of history.

Enlightenment thinkers rejected the religious interpretation of history but brought in their own teleology. Teleology or finality is a reason or explanation for something in function of its end, purpose or goat. The idea of progress—the idea that humanity is moving in the direction of better and more perfect civilization, and that this progression can be witnessed through study of the history of civilization (Condorcet and Montesquieu ). Vico's philosophy of history seeks to identify a foundational series of stages of human civilization. Different civilizations go through the same stages, because human nature is constant across history (Pompa 1990). Rousseau  and Kant brought some of these assumptions about rationality and progress into their political philosophies, and Adam Smith embodies some of this optimism about the progressive effects of rationality in his account of the unfolding of the modern European economic system (1776). This effort to derive a fixed series of stages as a tool of interpretation of the history of civilization is repeated throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it finds expression in Hegel's philosophy, as well as Marx's materialist theory of the development of economic modes of production.

The effort to find directionality or stages in history found a new expression in the early twentieth century, in the hands of several “meta-historians” who sought to provide a macro-interpretation that brought order to world history: Spengler , Toynbee , Wittfogel  and Lattimore. These authors offered a reading of world history in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations, races, or cultures. Their writings were not primarily inspired by philosophical or theological theories, but they were also not works of primary historical scholarship. Spengler and Toynbee portrayed human history as a coherent process in which civilizations pass through specific stages of youth, maturity, and senescence. Wittfogel and Lattimore interpreted Asian civilizations in terms of large determining factors. Wittfogel contrasts China's history with that of Europe by characterizing China's civilization as one of “hydraulic despotism”, with the attendant consequence that China's history was cyclical rather than directional. Lattimore applies the key of geographic and ecological determinism to the development of Asian civilization..

A legitimate criticism of many efforts to offer an interpretation of the sweep of history is the view that it looks for meaning where none can exist. Interpretation of individual actions and life histories is intelligible, because we can ground our attributions of meaning in a theory of the individual person as possessing and creating meanings. But there is no super-agent lying behind historical events—for example, the French Revolution—and so it is a category mistake to attempt to find the meaning of the features of the event (e.g., the Terror). The theological approach purports to evade this criticism by attributing agency to God as the author of history, but the assumption that there is a divine author of history takes the making of history out of the hands of humanity.

Efforts to discern large stages in history such as those of Vico, Spengler, or Toynbee are vulnerable to a different criticism based on their mono-causal interpretations of the full complexity of human history. These authors single out one factor that is thought to drive history: a universal human nature (Vico), or a common set of civilizational challenges (Spengler, Toynbee). But their hypotheses need to be evaluated on the basis of concrete historical evidence. And the evidence concerning the large features of historical change over the past three millennia offers little support for the idea of one fixed process of civilizational development. Instead, human history, at virtually every scale, appears to embody a large degree of contingency and multiple pathways of development. This is not to say that there are no credible “large historical” interpretations available for human history and society. For example, Michael Mann's sociology of early agrarian civilizations ), De Vries and Goudsblom's efforts at global environmental history , and Jared Diamond's treatment of disease and warfare offer examples of scholars who attempt to explain some large features of human history on the basis of a few common human circumstances: the efforts of states to collect revenues, the need of human communities to exploit resources, or the global transmission of disease. The challenge for macro-history is to preserve the discipline of empirical evaluation for the large hypotheses that are put forward.

 Hegel's philosophy of history

Hegel's philosophy of history is perhaps the most fully developed philosophical theory of history that attempts to discover meaning or direction in history. Hegel regards history as an intelligible process moving towards a specific condition—the realization of human freedom. “The question at issue is therefore the ultimate end of mankind, the end which the spirit sets itself in the world”. Hegel incorporates a deeper historicism into his philosophical theories than his predecessors or successors. He regards the relationship between “objective” history and the subjective development of the individual consciousness (“spirit”) as an intimate one; this is a central thesis in his Phenomenology of Spirit . And he views it to be a central task for philosophy to comprehend its place in the unfolding of history. “History is the process whereby the spirit discovers itself and its own concept” . Hegel constructs world history into a narrative of stages of human freedom, from the public freedom of the polis and the citizenship of the Roman Republic, to the individual freedom of the Protestant Reformation, to the civic freedom of the modern state. He attempts to incorporate the civilizations of India and China into his understanding of world history, though he regards those civilizations as static and therefore pre-historical. He constructs specific moments as “world-historical” events that were in the process of bringing about the final, full stage of history and human freedom. For example, Napoleon's conquest of much of Europe is portrayed as a world-historical event doing history's work by establishing the terms of the rational bureaucratic state. Hegel finds reason in history; but it is a latent reason, and one that can only be comprehended when the fullness of history's work is finished: “When philosophy paints its grey on grey, then has a shape of life grown old. … The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk”

It is worth observing that Hegel's philosophy of history is not the indefensible exercise of speculative philosophical reasoning that analytic philosophers sometimes paint it. His philosophical approach is not based solely on foundational a priori reasoning, and many of his interpretations of concrete historical developments are quite insightful. Instead he proposes an “immanent” encounter between philosophical reason and the historical given. His prescription is that the philosopher should seek to discover the rational within the real—not to impose the rational upon the real. “To comprehend what is, this is the task of philosophy, because what is, is reason”  His approach is neither purely philosophical nor purely empirical; instead, he undertakes to discover within the best historical knowledge of his time, an underlying rational principle that can be philosophically articulated.

Hermeneutic approaches to history
Another important strand of philosophy of history proposes to apply hermeneutics to problems of historical interpretation. This approach focuses on the meaning of the actions and intentions of historical individuals rather than historical wholes. This tradition derives from the tradition of scholarly Biblical interpretation. Hermeneutic scholars emphasized the linguistic and symbolic core of human interactions and maintained that the techniques that had been developed for the purpose of interpreting texts could also be employed to interpret symbolic human actions and products. Wilhelm Dilthey maintained that the human sciences were inherently distinct from the natural sciences in that the former depend on the understanding of meaningful human actions, while the latter depend on causal explanation of non-intentional events. Human life is structured and carried out through meaningful action and symbolic expressions. Dilthey maintains that the intellectual tools of hermeneutics—the interpretation of meaningful texts—are suited to the interpretation of human action and history. The method of verstehen (understanding) makes a methodology of this approach; it invites the thinker to engage in an active construction of the meanings and intentions of the actors from their point of view. This line of interpretation of human history found expression in the twentieth-century philosophical writings of Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Foucault. This tradition approaches the philosophy of history from the perspective of meaning and language. It argues that historical knowledge depends upon interpretation of meaningful human actions and practices. Historians should probe historical events and actions in order to discover the interconnections of meaning and symbolic interaction that human actions have created.

The hermeneutic tradition took an important new turn in the mid-twentieth century, as philosophers attempted to make sense of modern historical developments including war, ethnic and national hatred, and holocaust. Narratives of progress were no longer compelling, following the terrible events of the first half of the twentieth century. The focus of this approach might be labeled “history as remembrance.” Contributors to this strand of thought emerged from twentieth-century European philosophy, including existentialism and Marxism, and were influenced by the search for meaning in the Holocaust. Paul Ricoeur draws out the parallels between personal memory, cultural memory, and history. Dominick La Capra brings the tools of interpretation theory and critical theory to bear on his treatment of the representation of the trauma of the Holocaust. Others emphasize the role that folk histories play in the construction and interpretation of “our” past. This is a theme that has been taken up by contemporary historians. Memory and the representation of the past play a key role in the formation of racial and national identities; numerous twentieth-century philosophers have noted the degree of subjectivity and construction that are inherent in the national memories represented in a group's telling of its history.

Although not himself falling within the European  lineage, R. G. Collingwood's philosophy of history falls within the general framework of hermeneutic philosophy of history. Collingwood focuses on the question of how to specify the content of history. He argues that history is constituted by human actions. Actions are the result of intentional deliberation and choice; so historians are able to explain historical processes “from within” as a reconstruction of the thought processes of the agents who bring them about. He presents the idea of re-enactment as a solution to the problem of knowledge of the past from the point of view of the present. The past is accessible to historians in the present because it is open to them to re-enact important historical moments through imaginative reconstruction of the actors' states of mind and intentions. He describes this activity of re-enactment in the context of the historical problem of understanding Plato's meanings as a philosopher or Caesar's intentions as a ruler: This re-enactment is only accomplished, in the case of Plato and Caesar respectively, so far as the historian brings to bear on the problem all the powers of his own mind and all his knowledge of philosophy and politics. It is not a passive surrender to the spell of another's mind; it is a labour of active and therefore critical thinking.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Philosophy of History (part 1)


The concept of history plays a fundamental role in human thought. It invokes notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the supposed meaning of historical events. It raises the possibility of “learning from history.” And it suggests the possibility of better understanding ourselves in the present, by understanding the forces, choices, and circumstances that brought us to our current situation. It is therefore unsurprising that philosophers have sometimes turned their attention to efforts to examine history itself and the nature of historical knowledge. These reflections can be grouped together into a body of work called “philosophy of history.” This work is heterogeneous, comprising analyses and arguments of idealists, positivists, logicians, theologians, and others, and moving back and forth over the divides between European and Anglo-American philosophy, and between hermeneutics and positivism.

Given the plurality of voices within the “philosophy of history,” it is impossible to give one definition of the field that suits all these approaches. In fact, it is misleading to imagine that we refer to a single philosophical tradition when we invoke the phrase, “philosophy of history,” because the strands of research characterized here rarely engage in dialogue with each other. Still, we can usefully think of philosophers' writings about history as clustering around several large questions, involving metaphysics, hermeneutics, epistemology, and historicism: What does history consist of—individual actions, social structures, periods and regions, civilizations, large causal processes, divine intervention? Does history as a whole have meaning, structure, or direction, beyond the individual events and actions that make it up? What is involved in our knowing, representing, and explaining history?  To what extent is human history constitutive of the human present?

History and its representation

What are the intellectual tasks that define the historian's work? In a sense, this question is best answered on the basis of a careful reading of some good historians. But it will be useful to offer several simple answers to this foundational question as a sort of conceptual map of the nature of historical knowing.

First, historians are interested in providing conceptualizations and factual descriptions of events and circumstances in the past. This effort is an answer to questions like these: “What happened? What was it like? What were some of the circumstances and happenings that took place during this period in the past?” Sometimes this means simply reconstructing a complicated story from scattered historical sources—for example, in constructing a narrative of the Spanish Civil War or attempting to sort out the series of events that culminated in May 1968. But sometimes it means engaging in substantial conceptual work in order to arrive at a vocabulary in terms of which to characterize “what happened.” Concerning the disorders of May 1968: was this a riot or an uprising? How did participants and contemporaries think about it?

Second, historians often want to answer “why” questions: “Why did this event occur? What were the conditions and forces that brought it about?” This body of questions invites the historian to provide an explanation of the event or pattern he or she describes: the rise of fascism in Spain, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the great global financial crisis of 2008. And providing an explanation requires, most basically, an account of the causal mechanisms, background circumstances, and human choices that brought the outcome about. We explain an historical outcome when we identify the social causes, forces, and actions that brought it about, or made it more likely.

Third, and related to the previous point, historians are sometimes interested in answering a “how” question: “How did this outcome come to pass? What were the processes through which the outcome occurred?” How did the Prussian Army succeed in defeating the superior French Army in 1870? How did Truman manage to defeat Dewey in the 1948 US election? Here the pragmatic interest of the historian's account derives from the antecedent unlikelihood of the event in question: how was this outcome possible? This too is an explanation; but it is an answer to a “how possible” question rather than a “why necessary” question.

Fourth, often historians are interested in piecing together the human meanings and intentions that underlie a given complex series of historical actions. They want to help the reader make sense of the historical events and actions, in terms of the thoughts, motives, and states of mind of the participants. For example: Why did Napoleon III carelessly provoke Prussia into war in 1870? Why has the Burmese junta dictatorship been so intransigent in its treatment of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi? Answers to questions like these require interpretation of actions, meanings, and intentions—of individual actors and of cultures that characterize whole populations. This aspect of historical thinking is “hermeneutic,” interpretive, and ethnographic.

And, of course, the historian faces an even more basic intellectual task: that of discovering and making sense of the archival information that exists about a given event or time in the past. Historical data do not speak for themselves; archives are incomplete, ambiguous, contradictory, and confusing. The historian needs to interpret individual pieces of evidence; and he or she needs to be able to somehow fit the mass of evidence into a coherent and truthful story. So complex events like the Spanish Civil War present the historian with an ocean of historical traces in repositories and archives all over the world; these collections sometimes reflect specific efforts at concealment by the powerful (for example, Franco's efforts to conceal all evidence of mass killings of Republicans after the end of fighting); and the historian's task is to find ways of using this body of evidence to discern some of the truth about the past.

In short, historians conceptualize, describe, contextualize, explain, and interpret events and circumstances of the past. They sketch out ways of representing the complex activities and events of the past; they explain and interpret significant outcomes; and they base their findings on evidence in the present that bears upon facts about the past. Their accounts need to be grounded on the evidence of the available historical record; and their explanations and interpretations require that the historian arrive at hypotheses about social causes and cultural meanings. Historians can turn to the best available theories in the social and behavioral sciences to arrive at theories about causal mechanisms and human behavior; so historical statements depend ultimately upon factual inquiry and theoretical reasoning. Ultimately, the historian's task is to shed light on the what, why, and how of the past, based on inferences from the evidence of the present.

Two preliminary issues are relevant to almost all discussions of history and the philosophy of history. These are issues having to do with the constitution of history and the levels at which we choose to characterize historical events and processes. The first issue concerns the relationship between actors and causes in history: is history a sequence of causal relations, or is it the outcome of an interlocking series of human actions? The second issue concerns the question of scale of historical processes in space and time: how should historians seek to reconcile micro-, meso-, and macro-perspectives on history? Both issues can be illustrated in the history of France. Should we imagine that twentieth-century France is the end result of a number of major causes in its past—the collapse of the Roman order in the territory, the military successes of Charlemagne, the occurrence of the French Revolution, and defeat in the Franco-Prussian War? Or should we acknowledge that France at any point in time was the object of action and contest among individuals, groups, and organizations, and that the interplay of strategic actors is a more fertile way of thinking about French history than the idea of a series of causal events? Scale is equally controversial. Should we think of France as a single comprehensive region, or as the agglomeration of separate regions and cultures with their own historical dynamics (Alsace, Brittany, Burgundy)? Further, is it useful to consider the long expanse of human activity in the territory of what is now France, or are historians better advised to focus their attention on shorter periods of time?

 Actors and causes in history

An important problem for the philosophy of history is how to conceptualize “history” itself. Is history largely of interest because of the objective causal relations that exist among historical events and structures like the absolutist state or the Roman Empire? Or is history an agglomeration of the actions and mental frameworks of myriad individuals, high and low?

Historians often pose questions like these: “What were some of the causes of the fall of Rome?”, “what were the causes of the rise of fascism?”, or “what were the causes of the Industrial Revolution?”. But what if the reality of history is significantly different from what is implied by this approach? What if the causes of some very large and significant historical events are themselves small, granular, gradual, and cumulative? What if there is no satisfyingly simple and high-level answer to the question, why did Rome fall? What if, instead, the best we can do in some of these cases is to identify a swarm of independent, small-scale processes and contingencies that eventually produced the large outcome of interest?

More radically, it is worth considering whether this way of thinking about history as a series of causes and effects is even remotely suited to its subject matter. What if we think that the language of static causes does not work particularly well in the context of history? What if we take seriously the idea that history is the result of the actions and thoughts of vast numbers of actors, so history is a flow of action and knowledge rather than a sequence of causes and effects? What if we believe that there is an overwhelming amount of contingency and path dependency in history? Do these alternative conceptions of history suggest that we need to ask different questions about large historical changes?

Here is an alternative way of thinking of history: we might focus on history as a set of social conditions and processes that constrain and propel actions, rather than as a discrete set of causes and effects. We might couch historical explanations in terms of how individual actors (low and high) acted in the context of these conditions; and we might interpret the large outcomes as no more than the aggregation of these countless actors and their actions. Such an approach would help to inoculate us against the error of reification of historical structures, periods, or forces, in favor of a more disaggregated conception of multiple actors and shifting conditions of action.

This orientation brings along with it the importance of analyzing closely the social and natural environment in which actors frame their choices. Our account of the flow of human action eventuating in historical change unavoidably needs to take into account the institutional and situational environment in which these actions take place. Part of the topography of a period of historical change is the ensemble of institutions that exist more or less stably in the period: property relations, political institutions, family structures, educational practices, religious and moral values. So historical explanations need to be sophisticated in their treatment of institutions and practices. This approach gives a basis for judging that such-and-so circumstance “caused” a given historical change; but it also provides an understanding of the way in which this kind of historical cause is embodied and conveyed—through the actions and thoughts of individuals in response to given natural and social circumstances.

Social circumstances can be both inhibiting and enabling; they constitute the environment within which individuals plan and act. It is an important circumstance that a given period in time possesses a fund of scientific and technical knowledge, a set of social relationships of power, and a level of material productivity. It is also an important circumstance that knowledge is limited; that coercion exists; and that resources for action are limited. Within these opportunities and limitations, individuals, from leaders to ordinary people, make out their lives and ambitions through action.

What all of this suggests is an alternative way of thinking about history that has a different structure from the idea of history as a stream of causes and effects, structures and events. This approach might be called “actor-centered history”: we explain an epoch when we have an account of what people thought and believed; what they wanted; and what social and environmental conditions framed their choices. It is a view of history that gives close attention to states of knowledge, ideology, and agency, as well as institutions, organizations, and structures, and that gives less priority to the framework of cause and effect.

 Scale in history

Doing history forces us to make choices about the scale of the history with which we are concerned. Suppose we are interested in Asian history. Are we concerned with Asia as a continent, or China, or Shandong Province? Or in historical terms, are we concerned with the whole of the Chinese Revolution, the base area of Yenan, or the specific experience of a handful of villages in Shandong during the 1940s? And given the fundamental heterogeneity of social life, the choice of scale makes a big difference to the findings.

Historians differ fundamentally around the decisions they make about scale. William Hinton provides what is almost a month-to-month description of the Chinese Revolution in Fanshen village—a collection of a few hundred families. The book covers a few years and the events of a few hundred people. Likewise, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie offers a deep treatment of the villagers of Montaillou; once again, a single village. These histories are limited in time and space, and they can appropriately be called “micro-history.”

At the other end of the scale spectrum, William McNeill provides a history of the world's diseases ; Massimo Livi-Bacci offers a history of the world's population ; and De Vries and Goudsblom provide an environmental history of the world. In each of these cases, the historian has chosen a scale that encompasses virtually the whole of the globe, over millennia of time. These histories can certainly be called “macro-history.”

Both micro- and macro-histories have important shortcomings. Micro-history leaves us with the question, “how does this particular village shed light on anything larger?”. And macro-history leaves us with the question, “how do these large assertions about causality really work out in the context of Canada or Sichuan?”. The first threatens to be so particular as to lose all interest, whereas the second threatens to be so general as to lose all empirical relevance to real historical processes.


There is a third choice available to the historian that addresses both points. This is to choose a scale that encompasses enough time and space to be genuinely interesting and important, but not so much as to defy valid analysis. This level of scale might be regional-for example, G. William Skinner's analysis of the macro-regions of China. It might be national—for example, a social and political history of Indonesia. And it might be supra-national—for example, an economic history of Western Europe or comparative treatment of Eurasian history. The key point is that historians in this middle range are free to choose the scale of analysis that seems to permit the best level of conceptualization of history, given the evidence that is available and the social processes that appear to be at work. And this mid-level scale permits the historian to make substantive judgments about the “reach” of social processes that are likely to play a causal role in the story that needs telling. This level of analysis can be referred to as “meso-history,” and it appears to offer an ideal mix of specificity and generality.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Concept of Collective Unconscious - Jung


Jung concept of collective unconscious is based on his experiences with schizophrenic persons since he worked in the Burgholzli psychiatric hospital.

Though initially Jung followed the Freudian theory of unconscious as the psychic strata formed by repressed wishes, he later developed his own theory on the unconscious to include some new concepts. The most important of them is the archetype.

Archetypes constitute the structure of the collective unconscious - they are psychic innate dispositions to experience and represent basic human behavior and situations. Thus mother-child relationship is governed by the mother archetype. Father-child - by the father archetype. Birth, death, power and failure are controlled by archetypes. The religious and mystique experiences are also governed by archetypes.

The most important of all is the Self, which is the archetype of the Center of the psychic person, his/her totality or wholeness. The Center is made of the unity of conscious and unconscious reached through the individuation process.

Archetypes manifest themselves through archetypal images (in all the cultures and religious doctrines), in dreams and visions. Therefore a great deal of Jungian interest in psyche focuses on dreams and symbols interpretation in order to discover the compensation induced by archetypes as marks of psyche transformation.

The collective unconscious is an universal datum, that is, every human being is endowed with this psychic archetype-layer since his/her birth. One can not acquire this strata by education or other conscious effort because it is innate.

We may also describe it as a universal library of human knowledge, or the sage in man, the very transcendental wisdom that guides mankind.

Jung stated that the religious experience must be linked with the experience of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Thus, God himself is lived like a psychic experience of the path that leads one to the realization of his/her psychic wholeness.

Jung about the Collective Unconscious

“The collective unconscious - so far as we can say anything about it at all  - appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious... We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual.”

Monday, May 28, 2018

Jean Baudrillard, the philosopher of the simulacrum


Introduction

Jean Baudrillard (/; 27 July 1929 – 6 March 2007) was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. He is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality. He wrote about diverse subjects, including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture. Among his best known works are Simulacra and Simulation (1981), America (1986), and The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991). His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism.

Simulacra and Simulation

As he developed his work throughout the 1980s, he moved from economic theory to mediation and mass communication. Although retaining his interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (as influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss), Baudrillard turned his attention to the work of Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In so doing, Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes's formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood version of structural semiology.

Simulation, Baudrillard claims, is the current stage of the simulacrum: all is composed of references with no referents, a hyperreality. Progressing historically from the Renaissance, in which the dominant simulacrum was in the form of the counterfeit—mostly people or objects appearing to stand for a real referent (for instance, royalty, nobility, holiness, etc.) that does not exist, in other words, in the spirit of pretense, in dissimulating others that a person or a thing does not really "have it"—to the Industrial Revolution, in which the dominant simulacrum is the product, the series, which can be propagated on an endless production line; and finally to current times, in which the dominant simulacrum is the model, which by its nature already stands for endless reproducibility, and is itself already reproduced.

Hyperreality

In semiotics and postmodernism, hyperreality is an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. It allows the co-mingling of physical reality with virtual reality (VR) and human intelligence with artificial intelligence (AI). Individuals may find themselves, for different reasons, more in tune or involved with the hyperreal world and less with the physical real world. Some famous theorists of hyperreality/hyperrealism include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Daniel J. Boorstin, Neil Postman and Umberto Eco.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Jean Paul Sartre – Life and thought


Introduction

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

Sartre was also noted for his open relationship with prominent feminist and fellow existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir. Together, Sartre and de Beauvoir challenged the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of their upbringings, which they considered bourgeois, in both lifestyle and thought. The conflict between oppressive, spiritually destructive conformity (mauvaise foi, literally, "bad faith") and an "authentic" way of "being" became the dominant theme of Sartre's early work, a theme embodied in his principal philosophical work Being and Nothingness (L'Être et le Néant, 1943). Sartre's introduction to his philosophy is his work Existentialism and Humanism (L'existentialisme est un humanisme, 1946), originally presented as a lecture.
He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused it, saying that he always declined official honours and that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution".[10]
The French philosopher and distinguished writer Jean-Paul Sartre ranks as the most versatile writer and as the dominant influence in three decades of French intellectual life.

Childhood and early work

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris, France, on June 21, 1905. His father, a naval officer, died while on a tour of duty in Indochina before Sartre was two years old. His mother belonged to the Alsatian Schweitzer family and was a first cousin to the famous physician Albert Schweitzer (1875–1925). The young widow returned to her parents' house, where she and her son were treated as "the children." In the first volume of his autobiography, The Words (1964), Sartre describes his "unnatural" childhood as a spoiled and an unusually intelligent boy. Lacking any companions his own age, the child found "friends" exclusively in books. He began reading when he was a very young boy. Reading and writing thus became his twin passions. "It was in books that I encountered the universe," he once said.

Sartre received much of his early education from tutors. He entered the école Normale Supérieure at the University of Paris in 1924 and graduated in 1929. While there, he met the novelist Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), and the two formed a close relationship that lasted thereafter. After completing required military service, Sartre took a teaching job at a lycée (public secondary school) in Le Havre, France. There he wrote his first novel, Nausea (1938), which some critics have called the century's most influential French novel.

World War II

From 1933 to 1935 Sartre was a research student at the Institut Français in Berlin and Freiburg, Germany. He discovered the works of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) and began to philosophize on phenomenology, or the study of human awareness. A series of works on the models of consciousness poured from Sartre's pen: two works on imagination, one on self-consciousness, and one on emotions. He also produced a first-rate volume of short stories, The Wall (1939).

Sartre returned to Paris to teach in a lycée and to continue his writing, but this was interrupted by World War II (1939–45; a war in which France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States and other countries fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan). Called up by the army, he served briefly on the Eastern front and was taken prisoner. After nine months he secured his release and returned to teaching in Paris, where he became active in the Resistance, a secret French group dedicated to removing the occupying German army. During this period he wrote his first major work in philosophy, Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology (1943).

After the war Sartre abandoned teaching, determined to support himself by writing. He was also determined that his writing and thinking should be engaging, or intellectually activating. Intellectuals, he thought, must take a public stand on every great question of their day. He thus became fundamentally a moralist (a teacher of right and wrong), both in his philosophical and literary works.

Other works
Sartre had turned to playwriting and eventually produced a series of theatrical successes which are essentially dramatizations of ideas, although they contain some finely drawn characters and lively plots. The first two, The Flies and No Exit, were produced in occupied Paris. They were followed by Dirty Hands (1948), usually called his best play; The Devil and the Good Lord (1957), an insulting, anti-Christian rant; and The Prisoners of Altona (1960), which combined convincing character portrayal with telling social criticism. Sartre also wrote a number of comedies: The Respectful Prostitute (1946), Kean (1954), and Nekrassov (1956), which the critic Henry Peyre claimed "reveals him as the best comic talent of our times."

During this same period Sartre also wrote a three-volume novel, The Roads to Freedom (1945–1949); formal writings on literature; lengthy studies of Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) and Jean Genet (1910–1986); and a large number of reviews and criticisms. He also edited Les Temps modernes.
Though never a member of the Communist Party (a political party that believes goods and services should be controlled by a strong government), Sartre usually sympathized with the political views of the (liberal) far left. Whatever the political issue, he was quick to publish his opinions, often combining them with public acts of protest.

Later work

In 1960 Sartre returned to philosophy, publishing the first volume of his Critique of Dialectical Reason. It represented essentially a modification of his existentialist ideas, or a philosophy that stresses the importance of the individual experience. The drift of Sartre's earlier work was toward a sense of the uselessness of life. In Being and Nothingness he declared man to be "a useless passion," forced to exercise a meaningless freedom. But after World War II, his new interest in social and political questions gave way to more optimistic and activist views.

Sartre was always controversial yet respected. In 1964 he was awarded but refused to accept the Nobel Prize in literature. Sartre suffered from declining health throughout the 1970s and died from lung problems in 1980. He is remembered as one of the most influential French writer of the twentieth century.

Thought

Sartre's primary idea is that people, as humans, are "condemned to be free".  This theory relies upon his position that there is no creator, and is illustrated using the example of the paper cutter. Sartre says that if one considered a paper cutter, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator. Thus: "existence precedes essence". This forms the basis for his assertion that because one cannot explain one's own actions and behavior by referencing any specific human nature, they are necessarily fully responsible for those actions. "We are left alone, without excuse." "We can act without being determined by our past which is always separated from us."

Sartre maintained that the concepts of authenticity and individuality have to be earned but not learned. We need to experience "death consciousness" so as to wake up ourselves as to what is really important; the authentic in our lives which is life experience, not knowledge. Death draws the final point when we as beings cease to live for ourselves and permanently become objects that exist only for the outside world.[90] In this way death emphasizes the burden of our free, individual existence.

As a junior lecturer at the Lycée du Havre in 1938, Sartre wrote the novel La Nausée (Nausea), which serves in some ways as a manifesto of existentialism and remains one of his most famous books. Taking a page from the German phenomenological movement, he believed that our ideas are the product of experiences of real-life situations, and that novels and plays can well describe such fundamental experiences, having equal value to discursive essays for the elaboration of philosophical theories such as existentialism. With such purpose, this novel concerns a dejected researcher (Roquentin) in a town similar to Le Havre who becomes starkly conscious of the fact that inanimate objects and situations remain absolutely indifferent to his existence. As such, they show themselves to be resistant to whatever significance human consciousness might perceive in them.

He also took inspiration from phenomenologist epistemology, explained by Franz Adler in this way: "Man chooses and makes himself by acting. Any action implies the judgment that he is right under the circumstances not only for the actor, but also for everybody else in similar circumstances."

This indifference of "things in themselves" (closely linked with the later notion of "being-in-itself" in his Being and Nothingness) has the effect of highlighting all the more the freedom Roquentin has to perceive and act in the world; everywhere he looks, he finds situations imbued with meanings which bear the stamp of his existence. Hence the "nausea" referred to in the title of the book; all that he encounters in his everyday life is suffused with a pervasive, even horrible, taste—specifically, his freedom. The book takes the term from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it is used in the context of the often nauseating quality of existence. No matter how much Roquentin longs for something else or something different, he cannot get away from this harrowing evidence of his engagement with the world.

The novel also acts as a terrifying realization of some of Immanuel Kant's fundamental ideas about freedom; Sartre uses the idea of the autonomy of the will (that morality is derived from our ability to choose in reality; the ability to choose being derived from human freedom; embodied in the famous saying "Condemned to be free") as a way to show the world's indifference to the individual. The freedom that Kant exposed is here a strong burden, for the freedom to act towards objects is ultimately useless, and the practical application of Kant's ideas proves to be bitterly rejected.

Also important is Sartre’s analysis of psychological concepts, including his suggestion that consciousness exists as something other than itself, and that the conscious awareness of things is not limited to their knowledge: for Sartre intentionality applies to the emotions as well as to cognitions, to desires as well as to perceptions. "When an external object is perceived, consciousness is also conscious of itself, even if consciousness is not its own object: it is a non-positional consciousness of itself."






Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Life of Albert Camus

Albert Camus (7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay The Rebel that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 43 in 1957, the second youngest recipient in history.
Camus did not consider himself to be an existentialist despite usually being classified as a follower of it, even in his lifetime.In a 1945 interview, Camus rejected any ideological associations: "No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked."
Camus was born in French Algeria to a Pied-Noir family and studied at the University of Algiers, from which he graduated in 1936. In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons[6] to "denounce two ideologies found in both the USSR and the USA"


Early Years
Less than a year after Camus was born, his father, an impoverished worker, was killed in World War I during the First Battle of the Marne. His mother, of Spanish descent, did housework to support her family. Camus and his elder brother Lucien moved with their mother to a working-class district of Algiers, where all three lived, together with the maternal grandmother and a paralyzed uncle, in a two-room apartment. Camus’s first published collection of essays, L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; “The Wrong Side and the Right Side”), describes the physical setting of these early years and includes portraits of his mother, grandmother, and uncle. A second collection of essays, Noces (1938; “Nuptials”), contains intensely lyrical meditations on the Algerian countryside and presents natural beauty as a form of wealth that even the very poor can enjoy. Both collections contrast the fragile mortality of human beings with the enduring nature of the physical world.

In 1918 Camus entered primary school and was fortunate enough to be taught by an outstanding teacher, Louis Germain, who helped him to win a scholarship to the Algiers lycée (high school) in 1923. (It was typical of Camus’s sense of loyalty that 34 years later his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature was dedicated to Germain.) A period of intellectual awakening followed, accompanied by great enthusiasm for sport, especially football

(soccer), swimming, and boxing. In 1930, however, the first of several severe attacks of tuberculosis put an end to his sporting career and interrupted his studies. Camus had to leave the unhealthy apartment that had been his home for 15 years, and, after a short period spent with an uncle, Camus decided to live on his own, supporting himself by a variety of jobs while registered as a philosophy student at the University of Algiers.

Camus’s Literary Career
Throughout the 1930s, Camus broadened his interests. He read the French classics as well as the writers of the day—among them André Gide, Henry de Montherlant, André Malraux—and was a prominent figure among the young left-wing intellectuals of Algiers. For a short period in 1934–35 he was also a member of the Algerian Communist Party. In addition, he wrote, produced, adapted, and acted for the Théâtre du Travail (Workers’ Theatre, later named the Théâtre de l’Équipe), which aimed to bring outstanding plays to working-class audiences. He maintained a deep love of the theatre until his death. Ironically, his plays are the least-admired part of his literary output, although Le Malentendu (Cross Purpose) and Caligula, first produced in 1944 and 1945, respectively, remain landmarks in the Theatre of the Absurd. Two of his most enduring contributions to the theatre may well be his stage adaptations of William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun (Requiem pour une nonne; 1956) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (Les Possédés; 1959).

In the two years before the outbreak of World War II, Camus served his apprenticeship as a journalist with Alger-Républicain in many capacities, including those of leader- (editorial-) writer, subeditor, political reporter, and book reviewer. He reviewed some of Jean-Paul Sartre’s early literary works and wrote an important series of articles analyzing social conditions among the Muslims of the Kabylie region. These articles, reprinted in abridged form in Actuelles III (1958), drew attention (15 years in advance) to many of the injustices that led to the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954. Camus took his stand on humanitarian rather than ideological grounds and continued to see a future role for France in Algeria while not ignoring colonialist injustices.

Marriage
In 1934, Camus married Simone Hié, but the marriage ended as a consequence of infidelities on both sides. In 1935, he founded Théâtre du Travail (Worker's Theatre), renamed Théâtre de l'Equipe (Theatre of the Team) in 1937. It lasted until 1939. From 1937 to 1939 he wrote for a socialist paper, Alger-Républicain. His work included a report on the poor conditions for peasants in Kabylie, which apparently cost him his job. From 1939 to 1940, he briefly wrote for a similar paper, Soir-Republicain. He was rejected by the French army because of his tuberculosis.

In 1940, Camus married Francine Faure, a pianist and mathematician. Although he loved her, he had argued passionately against the institution of marriage, dismissing it as unnatural. Even after Francine gave birth to twins, Catherine and Jean, on 5 September 1945, he continued to joke to friends that he was not cut out for marriage. Camus had numerous affairs, particularly an irregular and eventually public affair with the Spanish-born actress María Casares, with whom he had an extensive correspondence.. In the same year, Camus began to work for Paris-Soir magazine. In the first stage of World War II, during the so-called Phoney War, Camus was a pacifist. While in Lyon during the Wehrmacht occupation, on 15 December 1941, Camus read about the Paris execution of Gabriel Péri; it crystallized his revolt against the Germans. He moved to Bordeaux with the rest of the staff of Paris-Soir. In the same year he finished The Stranger, his first novel, and The Myth of Sisyphus. He returned briefly to Oran, Algeria, in 1942.

Literary Star

He enjoyed the most influence as a journalist during the final years of the occupation of France and the immediate post-Liberation period. As editor of the Parisian daily Combat, the successor of a Resistance newssheet run largely by Camus, he held an independent left-wing position based on the ideals of justice and truth and the belief that all political action must have a solid moral basis. Later, the old-style expediency of both Left and Right brought increasing disillusion, and in 1947 he severed his connection with Combat.

By now Camus had become a leading literary figure. L’Étranger (U.S. title, The Stranger; British title, The Outsider), a brilliant first novel begun before the war and published in 1942, is a study of 20th-century alienation with a portrait of an “outsider” condemned to death less for shooting an Arab than for the fact that he never says more than he genuinely feels and refuses to conform to society’s demands. The same year saw the publication of an influential philosophical essay, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), in which Camus, with considerable sympathy, analyzed contemporary nihilism and a sense of the “absurd.” He was already seeking a way of overcoming nihilism, and his second novel, La Peste (1947; The Plague), is a symbolical account of the fight against an epidemic in Oran by characters whose importance lies less in the (doubtful) success with which they oppose the epidemic than in their determined assertion of human dignity and fraternity. Camus had now moved from his first main concept of the absurd to his other major idea of moral and metaphysical “rebellion.” He contrasted this latter ideal with politico-historical revolution in a second long essay, L’Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel), which provoked bitter antagonism among Marxist critics and such near-Marxist theoreticians as Jean-Paul Sartre. His other major literary works are the technically brilliant novel La Chute (1956) and a collection of short stories, L’Exil et le royaume (1957; Exile and the Kingdom). La Chute reveals a preoccupation with Christian symbolism and contains an ironical and witty exposure of the more complacent forms of secular humanist morality.

In 1957, at the early age of 44, Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature. With characteristic modesty he declared that had he been a member of the awarding committee his vote would certainly have gone to André Malraux. Less than three years later he was killed in an automobile accident.

Philosophy
Existentialism
As one of the forefathers of existentialism, Camus focused most of his philosophy around existential questions. The absurdity of life and its inevitable ending (death) is highlighted in the very famous opening of the novel The Stranger (1942): "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can't be sure.". This alludes to his claim that life is engrossed by the absurd. He believed that the absurd - life being void of meaning, or man's inability to know that meaning if it were to exist - was something that man should embrace. He argued that this crisis of self could cause a man to commit "philosophical suicide"; choosing to believe in external sources that give life (what he would describe as false) meaning. He claimed that religion was the main culprit. If a man chose to believe in religion - that the meaning of life was ascend to heaven, or some similar afterlife, that he committed philosophical suicide by trying to escape the absurd.

Absurdism
Many writers have addressed the Absurd, each with his or her own interpretation of what the Absurd is and what comprises its importance. For example, Sartre recognizes the absurdity of individual experience, while Kierkegaard explains that the absurdity of certain religious truths prevents us from reaching God rationally. Camus regretted the continued reference to himself as a "philosopher of the absurd". He showed less interest in the Absurd shortly after publishing Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus). To distinguish his ideas, scholars sometimes refer to the Paradox of the Absurd, when referring to "Camus' Absurd".

His early thoughts appeared in his first collection of essays, L'Envers et l'endroit (Betwixt and Between) in 1937. Absurd themes were expressed with more sophistication in his second collection of essays, Noces (Nuptials), in 1938. In these essays Camus reflects on the experience of the Absurd. In 1942 he published the story of a man living an absurd life as L'Étranger (The Stranger). In the same year he released Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), a literary essay on the Absurd. He also wrote a play about Caligula, a Roman Emperor, pursuing an absurd logic. The play was not performed until 1945.

The turning point in Camus's attitude to the Absurd occurs in a collection of four letters to an anonymous German friend, written between July 1943 and July 1944. The first was published in the Revue Libre in 1943, the second in the Cahiers de Libération in 1944, and the third in the newspaper Libertés, in 1945. The four letters were published as Lettres à un ami allemand (Letters to a German Friend) in 1945, and were included in the collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.

Ideas on the absurd
Camus presents the reader with dualisms such as happiness and sadness, dark and light, life and death, etc. He emphasizes the fact that happiness is fleeting and that the human condition is one of mortality; for Camus, this is cause for a greater appreciation for life and happiness. In Le Mythe, dualism becomes a paradox: we value our own lives in spite of our mortality and in spite of the universe's silence. While we can live with a dualism (I can accept periods of unhappiness, because I know I will also experience happiness to come), we cannot live with the paradox (I think my life is of great importance, but I also think it is meaningless). In Le Mythe, Camus investigates our experience of the Absurd and asks how we live with it. Our life must have meaning for us to value it. If we accept that life has no meaning and therefore no value, should we kill ourselves?

In Le Mythe, Camus suggests that 'creation of meaning' would entail a logical leap or a kind of philosophical suicide in order to find psychological comfort.  But Camus wants to know if he can live with what logic and lucidity have uncovered – if one can build a foundation on what one knows and nothing more. Creation of meaning is not a viable alternative but a logical leap and an evasion of the problem. He gives examples of how others would seem to make this kind of leap. The alternative option, namely suicide, would entail another kind of leap, where one attempts to kill absurdity by destroying one of its terms (the human being). Camus points out, however, that there is no more meaning in death than there is in life, and that it simply evades the problem yet again. Camus concludes that we must instead "entertain" both death and the absurd, while never agreeing to their terms.
Meursault, the absurdist hero of L'Étranger, has killed a man and is scheduled to be executed. Caligula ends up admitting his absurd logic was wrong and is killed by an assassination he has deliberately brought about. However, while Camus possibly suggests that Caligula's absurd reasoning is wrong, the play's anti-hero does get the last word, as the author similarly exalts Meursault's final moments.Camus made a significant contribution to a viewpoint of the Absurd, and always rejected nihilism as a valid response.If nothing had any meaning, you would be right. But there is something that still has a meaning. — Second Letter to a German Friend, December 1943.
Camus's understanding of the Absurd promotes public debate; his various offerings entice us to think about the Absurd and offer our own contribution. Concepts such as cooperation, joint effort and solidarity are of key importance to Camus, though they are most likely sources of 'relative' versus 'absolute' meaning. In The Rebel, Camus identifies rebellion (or rather, the values indicated by rebellion) as a basis for human solidarity.
When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical. But for the moment we are only talking of the kind of solidarity that is born in chains.

The Myth of Sisyphus

Despite his opposition to the label, Camus addressed one of the fundamental questions of existentialism: the problem of suicide.[43] He wrote, "There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that."[44] Camus viewed the question of suicide as arising naturally as a solution to the absurdity of life..  In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus seeks to identify the kinds of life that could be worth living despite their inherent meaninglessness.

Views on totalitarianism
Throughout his life, Camus spoke out against and actively opposed totalitarianism in its many forms. Early on, Camus was active within the French Resistance to the German occupation of France during World War II, even directing the famous Resistance journal Combat. On the French collaboration with Nazi occupiers he wrote: "Now the only moral value is courage, which is useful here for judging the puppets and chatterboxes who pretend to speak in the name of the people."After liberation, Camus remarked, "This country does not need a Talleyrand, but a Saint-Just." The reality of the bloody postwar tribunals soon changed his mind: Camus publicly reversed himself and became a lifelong opponent of capital punishment.

Camus's well-known falling out with Sartre is linked to his opposition to authoritarian communism. Camus detected a reflexive totalitarianism in the mass politics espoused by Sartre in the name of Marxism. This was apparent in his work L'Homme Révolté (The Rebel) which not only was an assault on the Soviet police state, but also questioned the very nature of mass revolutionary politics and ideas. Camus continued to speak out against the atrocities of the Soviet Union, a sentiment captured in his 1957 speech The Blood of the Hungarians, commemorating the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, an uprising crushed in a bloody assault by the Red Army.

Philhellenism, debts to Greek classical thought

One further important, often neglected component of Camus' philosophical and literary persona was his love of classical Greek thought and literature, or philhellenism. This love looks back to his youthful encounters with Friedrich Nietzsche, his teacher Jean Grenier, and his own sense of a "Mediterranean" identity, based in a common experience of sunshine, beaches, and living in proximity to the near-Eastern world. Camus' Diplomes thesis (roughly like an MA thesis in most anglophone countries) was on the transition between classical Greek and Roman, and Christian culture, featuring chapters on the early Church, gnosticism, Plotinus and Saint Augustine's "second revelation", bringing Greek philosophical conceptuality to Christian revelation. Camus' early essay collection Noces (Nuptials) features essays set amidst classical Roman ruins; as the Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel (which takes as its hero Prometheus) both are rooted in Camus' classical paideia. The culmination of the latter work defends a "midday thought" based in classical moderation or measure, in opposition to the tendency of modern political ideologies to exclusively valorise race or class, and to dream of a total redemptive revolution. Camus' conception of classical moderation also has deep roots in his lifelong love of Greek tragic theatre, about which he gave an intriguing address in Athens in 1956. He appealed to Queen Elizabeth II for mercy for the young Greek anti-colonial freedom fighter Michalis Karaolis, from Kypros (Chypre, Zypern), who was sentenced to death in 1956. Camus's letter was acquired at auction by Nasos Ktorides and donated to the National Struggle Museum in Nicosia.

Legacy
As novelist and playwright, moralist and political theorist, Albert Camus after World War II became the spokesman of his own generation and the mentor of the next, not only in France but also in Europe and eventually the world. His writings, which addressed themselves mainly to the isolation of man in an alien universe, the estrangement of the individual from himself, the problem of evil, and the pressing finality of death, accurately reflected the alienation and disillusionment of the postwar intellectual. He is remembered, with Sartre, as a leading practitioner of the existential novel. Though he understood the nihilism of many of his contemporaries, Camus also argued the necessity of defending such values as truth, moderation, and justice. In his last works he sketched the outlines of a liberal humanism that rejected the dogmatic aspects of both Christianity and Marxism.