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WISDOM has been traditionally linked, in almost all cultures, with philosophy and old age. What is the link between old age and wisdom? Well, the older a person grows, the greater the span and matrix of his concrete experience is likely to be. History, as the story of the sum total of human experience of nature and interaction with fellow humans could and should have been regarded as the main source of wisdom, or, at least, as the prolegomena to the study of philosophy. However, the vast majority of eastern and western philosophers has neglected history as the pathway to wisdom, and has tended to confine themselves to reflection on essences, speculation, or logical deduction from self evident premises as the proper way of acquiring wisdom. Thus Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibnitz, Kant, were not enamored of the study of history. Ancient Indian sages were even less concerned with the dimension of time in their pursuit of the eternal verities of life. It goes to the credit of classical Muslim culture, that it gave the greatest importance to the study of history. It is, however, Hegel and, after him, Marx, Dilthey, Troeltsch and Collingwood, who recognized the crucial importance of the historical approach to the proper understanding of reality. In this article I wish to analyze the concept of history and show how history helps in the task of pursuing wisdom, which is the avowed goal of the philosopher.

What is History?

What is history? History is a systematic and accurate, descriptive and explanatory study of the significant features of man's total recorded past, in every sphere of human activity or experience. History describes the past, which, however, cannot be perceived but only remembered or inferred from present experience. Thus, even though the descriptive propositions of history belong to factual discourse, as in the case of science, the facts of history are not straightforward facts given to us, like scientific data. These are constructed or inferred descriptions, on the basis of evidence deemed to .be reliable by historiographers. Even such a simple historical fact, that Gandhiji was assassinated on January 30, 1948, cannot be perceived or verified in the scientific sense. The so-called facts of history are construed out of pieces of testimony, which come to us through a chain of reporters, going back to the direct experience of some person or persons. The same remarks apply to the difference between scientific and historical explanations. A scientific explanation reduces constant conjunctions or regular sequences of events to particular instances of a general law of nature. A natural law is not a logical necessity or purposive Divine command (from the standpoint of the scientist), but a descriptive generalization. A natural law is always verifiable in theory, directly or indirectly, though it may not be so in practice, at a given moment of time, due to our technological limitations. An historical explanation both resembles and differs from a scientific explanation

Cultural Imponderables of History

An historical explanation partly resembles a natural explanation, in the sense that it makes use of empirical generalization. When, for instance, the historian explains the success of the British in India, in terms of their superiority in technological and administrative organization and the political disunity of the Indian people, he makes use of the empirical generalization, that superiority in such matters leads to political success. But a historical generalization is also something more—it is an insight into the workings of the human mind, the attitudes, motivations, morale of individuals and groups involved. And it is precisely here that a historical explanation transcends natural causation, and introduces cultural imponderables (which cannot be quantified or mathematically correlated) into its explanatory framework. In other words, history is something much more than chronology though the latter is integral to history.

BY Jamal Khwaja

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