Sunday, June 19, 2011

Observing The Present With A Historical Eye

Sometimes I watch television shows and movies and I feel fascinated by them. Tonight I watched the first two episodes of 'Game Of Thrones' and I was pretty fascinated by the representations in that show. I was just like whoa, what a world in which something like this could possibly be produced. Same thing with music, art, and most other facets of contemporary culture. I feel almost no way to judge them in terms of quality. I know whether I like things or not. That isn't quite what I mean.

I am thinking about the way that we approach the past, the way we approach the study of history. We don't begin the study of the past by just judging it, we are concerned with much more than moral judgements of the past. What we seek with historical study is to understand why people did what they did. We view the past as something that had its own internal logic. We think 'there was something going on in that era that made people act that way'. In some ways the past is freer from moral judgement than the present.

So what if we are capable of viewing the present moment in similar ways. What if the present moment is something to be understood, and not something to be judged.

Clearly that is a socially and politically irresponsible approach. But I guess what concerns me is that we jump straight into judging the present moment without trying to understand the present moment. So I guess I'm just thinking that if we are to take the effort to understand the present we will be in much better shape to go about judging it and changing it.

This seems to be at the core of what Collingwood calls 'absolute ethics'. A stance in which we see all action as operating under the same 'absolute mind', the same presuppositions, the same episteme (perhaps).

In any case, I just wonder about the benefits of historical thinking, and I wonder about this idea of absolute ethics. And this capacity for understanding seems to be a major benefit to both historical thinking and absolute ethics (which are undoubtedly related).

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