6/21/2019

Henry Adams & Modernity: A Philosophy of History for Our Times

"Studies in the philosophy of history and the philosophy of time have an interesting relationship to twentieth-century critics of modernity. It is well known that T.S. Eliot, for example, was intellectually influenced by philosopher Henri Bergson’s writings on duration and time. The protagonist for this essay, Henry Adams, also had a fascination with the effects that his modern age—its distortion of time, place, and meaning—had on our culture. Culture, after all, is evocative of our social metaphysic; how we understand our existence and how we view our place in the world. History, correspondingly, is how we explain our culture through narratives and stories. Or so it was. Adams wrote that the task of the historian is to arrange the sequences in time that we call stories, or histories. The value in the historian’s analysis, then, is that it assumes a causal relationship between such sequences. Or so it did. Adams wrote three books that related his experience living during a pivotal moment in history, during the complete transition from the pre-modern world to the new, arguing that history was no longer a field through which man could attempt to understand himself and his society."