The Violence of History. A Case for a “Post-Speculative” Approach to Philosophy of History

The Violence of History. A Case for a “Post-Speculative” Approach to Philosophy of History
Vinsent Nollet (KU Leuven, Belgium)
21.09.2023 (16h Finnish time)

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The demise of speculative philosophies of history in the spirit of Hegel is generally held to be the result of scholarly progress, signaling the overcoming of outdated metaphysics by a more scientific and critical historical ethos. Philosophy of history, today, can be divided in a ‘speculative’ and ‘critical’ branch. As opposed to speculation, a dominant paradigm to interpret the role of philosophy in history is as a philosophy of science: a critical and auxiliary meta-enterprise that can be applied to test the function and value of historical concepts or habits rooted in historical practices. In my presentation, I argue against such clean-cut divisions, suggesting that speculation may not only be, to some extent, an inescapable element of engagement with historical concepts, but could also potentially enrich the process of their critique. I build my case around the observation that an approach to history that excludes speculative reflection cannot fully address the disruptive operation of certain key historical concepts, in particular the concept of ‘violence’. A “post-speculative” approach to philosophy of history, then, is an attempt at historical orientation that, while not relapsing into uncritical and outdated traditional approaches, is capable of making sense of an intrinsic connection between speculation and critique in engagement with history. In my presentation, I intend to build my arguments mainly on a philosophical-historical interpretation of Walter Benjamin’s 1921 essay “Critique of Violence”, in which Benjamin understood philosophy of history as moral-political and conceptual orientation in history based on a transcendental critique of the force of violence in history to shape norms and values, particularly evident in revolutionary moments. Treating the concept of violence in a “speculative” way, Benjamin develops a thorough understanding of teleological and instrumental preconditions of historical meaning, as well as ways to deconstruct them.

Last updated: 13.9.2023