Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 10:26:58 -0800
Sender: PHILosophy OF HIstory and theoretical history <PHILOFHI@YORKU.CA>
From: Bertil Haggman <>
Organization: CRG
Subject: The Shape of the Past

Review of Gordon Graham, The Shape of the Past—A philosophical approach to history

Summarized by Bertil Haggman, the Times Literary Supplement (London), 9 January 1998

Gordon Graham, The Shape of the Past—A philosophical approach to history.
236 pp. Oxford University Press.
Paperback, £ 9.99. ISBN 0 19 289255X.

This is a short summary of the review. Graham, a Professor of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in the book opens with a quote from The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. Professor Graham questions the attempts of many historians to portray “philosophical history” as an invalid enterprise. He does not formulate a substantive interpretation of the historical process of his own, but assesses the validity of such undertakings.

After a preliminary survey of the complexities of an investigation Graham divides the different attempts in categories: progress, decline, collapse, recurrance and providence, each being accorded a chapter. It is important to distinguish between seperate areas of historical experience when assessing merits or shortcomings.

The rise of science and technology in the West can be a plausible basis for a progressivist view of the past.

When we move to aspects of culture like religion or morality contrasting notions of decline or collapse might be applicable.

In addition to the leading philosophers of history, where Hegel takes a central position, Graham also deals with Machiavelli, Schleiermacher and Nietzsche but Mikael Oakeshott, Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor as well.

In the end, however, Graham comes out with a qualified endorsement of the claims of a progrssivist-cum-providential account of the shape of the past.

If David Richardson is out there in cyberspace: thanks a lot for the book. It arrived in the mail the other day.


Bertil Haggman