Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Art of Intellectual History
The Art of Intellectual History: For some people, intellectual history is nothing more than the history of philosophy. To others, it is the history of ideas. The variety of -isms conceived throughout history are essentially ideologies or sets of beliefs that determine the way a society functions. For the Puritans, it was providentialism, which saw the hand of God playing an active role in everyday life. Intellectual historians, therefore, find that what happens in people's minds is more valuable and intriguing than what occurs on battlefields or in courtrooms. Religious movements like the four Great Awakenings and cultural movements like the Enlightenment are just a few examples of when ideas changed the fundamental course of social progress in Western civilization. More specifically, the Puritan settlements in seventeenth-century New England had profound implications for the intellectual development of early America. Some intellectual historians actually prefer an anti-intellectual approach to history whereby instinct trumps reason. Thus, what people feel is more important than what they think. Feelings presuppose thoughts, and hence, they are more visceral in defining human experiences. And as Martin Heidegger so eloquently stated in his essay What Is Called Thinking?, "the most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking."