Philosophical Reflections on Antiquity: Historical Change addresses the question of whether there is a logic of historical change, and whether the collapse of teleology should deter us from inquiring anew whether any recurring patterns and themes show themselves amid the complexity of historical life. Paul Fairfield argues that if any conception of universal history remains possible, it is one that rejects teleology and causal laws while identifying thematic tendencies that afford some semblance of unity, including the enduring phenomena that are interlocution, the struggle for predominance, and the endless back and forth that play out between them. This book examines the transitional periods of archaic Greece and late antiquity, the ostensible birth and death of the ancient west. Fairfield argues that an interpretation of the social, political, and intellectual history of these important turning points brings to light some philosophical understanding of the dynamics of change itself, observing that the transition from archaic to classical Greece was no miracle, while the end of the Roman era can no longer be conceived as a story of decline and fall. Rather, Fairfield posits, these were not complete breaks, but relative beginnings and endings in narratives that are ongoing. Scholars of philosophy, history, and anthropology will find this book particularly useful.
Paul Fairfield is professor of philosophy at Queen’s University.
Part I: Transitions
Chapter 1: Introduction: On Universal History
Chapter 2: Nomenclature
Part II: The Birth of the Ancient World
Chapter 3: A Miracle Story: On Social History
Chapter 4: Power and Reason: On Political History
Chapter 5: From Mythos to Mythos: On Intellectual History
Part III: Late Antiquity
Chapter 6: Civilizational Collapse? On Social History
Chapter 7: Decline or Transformation: On Political History
Chapter 8: Christianization: On Intellectual History
Conclusion: Marching in Place
The inexorability of change has always brought out the worst in philosophers, especially when they’ve deployed it in conjunction with the concept of time. Such a conjunction lies nestled at the heart of the philosophy of history, which has long provided philosophers with the perfect forum in which to display the various metaphysical, theological, ethical and political assumptions that underlie their thinking as a whole. Such assumptions are always necessary, but rarely are they so clearly and forcefully at play, and they include, for example: that radical or revolutionary change has been the driving force behind historical development; that such development must in fact be progress; that historical change can be understood properly only when viewed as universally exhibiting law-like regularity; and that such regularity must in fact be the product of a design that dictates the historical course of human affairs. In this book, Fairfield takes aim at several such fundamental assumptions, demonstrating how they have been employed in philosophical attempts to interpret the past. Focusing on early and late antiquity, Fairfield convincingly argues that the conventional approaches have failed, and he proposes a novel, hermeneutically sensitive approach that views broad historical change not as the product of radical conflict but as a process of dialogical transformation.