Skip to main content
Sriramchandra.org | Imperience.org

Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -4

A Critique of the Philosophies of History


There have been Philosophies of History, that is to say, attempts to understand the meaning of the series of events which have occurred from the beginning of time and whose occurrence we cannot stop. History has been usually the story or biography of great men, usually rules of nations who have attempted to build states or communities and organize them. Nations are in one sense made by these great men, soldiers and warriors of history, who have given the ‘consciousness of self’ to people, uniqueness in traits and character, which differentiate them from the masses. But the life-histories of great men, warriors so to speak, miss the broad cultural evolutions which seem to play a greater part in human affairs. More than the warriors, the religious seers have always played a dominant part in the organization of the mental shape and pattern of the people. The lives of individuals are closely linked up with the class or the mass, and the greatness of these individuals is relative to the influence which they exercise over it. The history of the reactions and responses of these masses is as important an aspect of history as the lives of individuals. This shift from the study of men (individuals) to the study of mass (community) is plainly the meaning of the ‘materialistic’ interpretation of history, even as it is the meaning of the shift from the cultural to the economic life in respect of ends pursued (purushartha).


History in the context of the modern world has been claiming a scientific status. There was a time (it looks almost quite a long time ago) when all sciences even wooed to be called philosophies. The tide has now turned. Even philosophy likes to be scientific. There is something to be said in favour of this movement. Sciences seek to determine laws, discern the system within certain fields of investigation. Philosophy is the science of sciences, for it acts on the belief that all events are interrelated in a Whole or System or Experience or Reality. Philosophy affirms the certainties of the inductive generalisations and sanctions their validity. Sciences can only generalize and yet be uncertain in their conclusions. Philosophy certifies the validity on the basis of a large understanding of Reality. History as the succession of events, not merely pertaining to man but also to the entire creation or evolution of all life, is the latest comer into the fields of scientific enquiry. As science, history cannot be merely a catalogue of the succession of events but a determination of the laws of sequence, which always can be true. Every science is an ‘IS,’ which requires however the explanation of the uniformity that it perceives. But though science determines the ‘eternal is,’ the law and the truth, it cannot be limited to it. It has to determine the dimension and the direction of the process, its goal, its purpose, its finality. Final causes are as much relevant to it as material and efficient and instrumental causes. Thus history needs the philosophic touch. Science stops with the ‘is’, unable to comprehend the ‘ought’. The meaning of process, the succession of contingent events, is to be gleaned only from the ‘final’ end to which all process tends. Positive science cannot but be a partial science of truth. Values emerge only in the context of the historical process seen to be moving towards a goal. This conception alone can make our life intelligible, and not the view of historical succession as a meaningless repetitions or chance revolutions and convulsions which seem to be as much part of reality as the repetitions themselves.


At this point of our enquiry certain important questions arise. Is History a process which is progressively realising perfection or unity or happiness? Is there a goal capable of being apprehended by the human intellect? Or are the goals just human postulations or ideals, fictions of imagination? Is History a series of meaningless or purposeless events endlessly unrolling themselves in a uniform manner or cyclically repeating themselves? Is it a question of eternal recurrence or endless progression to higher levels of consciousness or human adaptation or civilization? Or is it, as the scientists hold, leading up to a final ‘entropy’, quiescence, or what not? Is meaning to be discerned only in the middle of the process not at the beginning nor at the end? Or should we also consider that the entire movement of history is the progress of the conception and achievement of liberty or freedom? Or after all is it a drama of illusion, or a delirium of the will, cosmic, or a lila of the Absolute Spirit that plays at hide and seek with itself or in relation to its own constituents, ‘organs’ (angas)?


All these questions have been raised during the course of the attempts to find meaning to life and its history. Several theories have been propounded. There are metaphysical interpretations, as also psychological, economico-materialistic or scientific-physical or biological-evolutionary interpretations. Many of these have a long history. But I shall content myself by taking the modern representatives of these views, since they claim to be more scientific than the older theories. I shall also try to canvas briefly the several views in the order of their emergence as explanations and finally give a synthetic view, however tentative it might be.


Metaphysical theories of history are interested in explaining the raison d’tre of the process of change in Reality. The discussions centre round fundamental problem of being and becoming, absolute changeless-ness and change. The most important writers on this subject were the Absolutists who wanted to explain the facts of change, heterogeneity, diversity. The earliest efforts tended to explain these as due to sensory illusiveness, on the principle that reason is trustworthy not sensations. This division of the fields of reality and illusion led to strange results till an attempt was made to show that it is permanence that is unreal and change real and rational.


All kinds of contradictions have been raised between these two spheres. Thus empiricism and rationalism have always sponsored the illusoriness of their contradictories. It was left to Hegel to show that reality is the notion of synthesis of these two opposite concepts of being and non-being, and that change is the synthesis of these two. But then this becoming is not permanent as such since it almost immediately takes itself to be ‘being’ which posits its contradictory non-being. Thus the entire process though negative in function builds up or gives rise to an endless process of synthesis. It must in this connection be remembered that Fichte, Hegel’s predecessor in German Philosophy, assumed that the Absolute ‘anstossed’ or posited an opposite against which it affirmed itself constantly. This idealistic positing by the Absolute of its opposite is said to be the explanation for the next step of the process of change by an effort to come to terms with it. Thus we find that in Herbert Spencer we have the original homogeneity urging itself to its opposite, the heterogeneity. Identity is real only when it realises itself in its manyness. And evolution itself has been described as the process of moving from identity to unity through the process of self-diversification and division, analysis and synthesis.


All that Hegel strove to present was the notion of the synthesis of opposites as the essential principle of History. The progressive realisation is logical. This process is real because it is logical (rational). Thus history is the process of the Absolute objectifying itself in and through self-determination by means of the dialectical dynamism which is inherent in thought itself. The particular efficacy of this dialectical process or apparatus lies in its clear-cut affirmation of the perceived polarisations or positings of the opposites or negations which are necessary at each stage. Becoming, significant and every time increasingly enriched by prior syntheses, is the truth about reality and not non-change or non-being or abstract being. History then is the necessity of Reality. All reality, conversely speaking, is seething with process whether we explain it by a dialectical explanation or explain it as at once a self-analysing and self-revealing process or as a self-realising process. Hegelian dialectic is weak in so far as it does not clearly explain the process of emergence of new or novel characteristics. It can explain what have so far happened but not predict what might. It is strictly, logically teleological but not axiologically, for it is but a process of contradictories or anti-theses. Evolution-theories on the other hand reveal to us the presence of the unexpected or the emergence of alternative modes of meeting the conditions of life and environment, and the emergence of higher forms and planes of consciousness other than the unconscious, subconscious and the conscious and the self-conscious which cannot be said to be capable of being explained by the Thesis – Anti-thesis – Synthesis  formula.


The dynamic formulation of the Marxian philosophy has not done much to ease this situation. All that it has done is to substitute for the logical procession of categories which emerge at each stage of the self-determinations of the Absolute (the only evolution being the emergence of these categories from the bosom of the Absolute) the processes of the economic institutions (capitalism, labour and so on which are not abstract negations of each other but polar and real opposites). History becomes concrete so far as the events themselves are concerned, since a logical evolution need not also be a concrete evolution whose each step is dictated by the logic of the previous step. Indeed it is this difficulty of discerning the real event to be the rational development or synthesis of the prior processes analysed as the dialectical opposition of two polar opposites that makes both Hegelian and Marxian interpretations difficult to accept. It is an ‘Ought,’ and not an ‘Is’ of history. No one can yet discern on the horizon of the human evolution that dictator who could coerce events to conform to the dialectical pattern of the human mind, though we have amidst us such as would command and coerce human wills to do what they want. History is strewn with the derelicts of dictators – though each of them attempted gallantly “to make” history ! Reason of the human mind is not the arbiter of the process of history. History transcends human measures. Indeed the larger patterns of human evolution have sometimes been marked by the confidence of the mind to order growth and development according to the logical will. But history has shown how the uncanny human mind gets beaten and debarred from imposing its logical intellectual solution. The Spirit behind the History or the Absolute seems to laugh at the intellect of man, for whilst using it to further its own scheme it lands it in discomfitures.


The modification made by that great Italian Philosopher, Senator Benedetto Croce, in the dialectic gives a more concrete picture of the integrative process of the Spirit which has a double poise or movement simultaneously operating without the one perhaps interfering with the other. His dialectic of distincts showed how in our logical and realistic understanding the four elements of our experience and action get integrated. Intuition is the basis of our logical apprehension and our practical conduct is based on the logical and is itself in turn the basis of the ethical life of the Good. Much of his exposition is devoted to showing this inevitable autonomy of each within its field, governed by its own development through the dialectic of opposites but in respect of the higher form getting subordinated or subsumed by the higher form. It is indeed a great contribution to show that the Thesis – Anti-thesis – Synthesis is not all in the logical nature of the Absolute Spirit ; it is as big a discovery as Hegel’s own when he pointed out that there is this constant presence of the other forms of the Absolute which could not be brought into the Hegelian pattern. Indeed intuition and reason, and practical and good are not capable of being reduced to the status of opposites or anti-theses : they are rather the eternal quartets of being. But despite this discovery, history for Croce is no more than this synthesis of the opposites. This is a double- action interpretation, richer and more profound than the Hegelian, more liberal and logical than the Marxian, (since this includes the real or the practical and the political in the pattern of conflict and synthesis). But the essential process of the emergents in history or the true spiritual transcendence over reason or intellect is not brought under the scope of this interpretation.


Croce’s contribution is indeed fundamentally an advance on the German theories and even over the British Hegelians but it is not quite comprehensive, being ‘humanistic’ rationality.


Professor R. G. Collingwood argues in his conception of History that historical positivism is just a collection and accumulation of facts, external series of events, dogmas and their interactions. It is descriptive, analytical and good so far as it goes. Even an effort to discover causes and efforts and the interaction between ideals and the environment may be beyond it, since there could be any number of possibilities of explanation of the events. It is true that there can be an anti- historical view of all these events which refers all these to the dialectical logical process. The uncertainty of events and the irrelevance of two or more orders of events always make history a mere medley or chaos without meaning and purpose to life. This is because we do not really take into consideration the ‘internal history’, as events are being made in the minds of men who play their part in the making of events or share in impacts and adjustments. A biographical view of history has pretty much to commend itself. But the inner trend and psychological reactions of individual participants would yet be represented by a surface-expression of their reactions to the scene, not the integral revelation of thewy and purpose underlying these. History is the life of its great men, men who have played their significant part by bringing into events the tempo and the characteristic of ideals which inwardly have made themselves possible of achievement in the external world. This ‘ingression’ of ideas such as we find in the values and their elaboration in Philosophic minds given to the contemplation on them, into the scheme of practical life of the people and the nation and the world is the internal process assimilated into the external form of history. The Kantian dictum that mere facts without theories are blind and theories without facts are empty is invariably true, and it is the meaning behind history that their mutual assimilation achieves in it. As Collingwood states “History like Philosophy is the knowledge of the one real world : it is historical subject to the limitation of time, because only that is known and done which has been known and done”. Nor is it fully true to say that History is the knowledge of the particular whereas philosophy is the knowledge of the universal. Philosophical presuppositions of history are history, historically exemplified as the historian discerns the patterns of  epochs.


Nicolai Berdyeav’s conception of History is eschatological. The full meaning of History is already typified by a unique manifestation of the self-giving of God as Jesus for the redemption of mankind. The catastrophic manner of that incident is held by him to be its real significance. It is indeed God’s revelation of Himself in and through History.  History exhibits the influx, incarnation and ingression of the Divine and his own self and being and his values. The reality of freedom is the most significant realisation in History. History is not the inevitable causal chain of necessity. It is on the other hand the patent manifestation of the Freedom which is the essence of spirit in the lives of the creatures who participate in the Creator’s Spiritual nature. Freedom is not sin nor its essence but the essence of spirituality. The mystery of History lies in the realisation of fullness and love freely, that is to say, chosen freely. It is the fundamental quality of will to choose the God. No one demonstrated the free choosing of God through the sanctification of love of God more than Jesus. It is the measure of His love that led Him to the Cross rather than the refractoriness of Nature or Law. In the free choice of the Divine Will, the free consecration of one’s will to do the Will of the Father in Heaven, to live for it and die for it and none other, lies at once its greatest strength and the tragedy. But what appeared to be a humiliation and a catastrophe revealed also the triumph and the conquest over the world. In one word Jesus, the Christ, kept the world from falling back into the freedom that leads away from God by showing the glory and the wisdom of the freedom that freely gives itself upto the enjoyment of the splendours of God-experience. Berdyeav’s claim that this is the sole instance of Divine Influx or Incarnation and that is because there can be no other similar instance since such an occurrence would neither enhance nor strengthen it, can carry no valid conviction. On the other hand, Indian Historical eschatology claims firstly that God constantly, that is to say, in every age, reveals this Grace in descents, and that catastrophe is not and need not be the only means or measure of Love freely chosen and followed, and that different occasions demand differing types of incarnation, i.e., as Saviour, Redeemer, as Teacher, as Warrior – Ruler – or as Manu (Ruler) as Rishi, as Avatar, as Alvar or Acharya.


Professor Toynbee is one of the greatest philosophers of History of the XXth Century. His approach is clearly stated in the following passage taken from his Civilization on Trial.*


“We must accustom ourselves to taking a synoptic view of history as a whole – to perceive and to present to other people, the history of all the known civilizations, surviving and extinct. There are two ways of  presenting it as an encounter between civilizations by which higher religions are born or as a study of all histories of civilizations as a unity looking at them as so many representatives of one particular species of the genus Human society – a morphology of the species of society called civilizations would be possible.”    (p. 159)


In a sense Professor Toynbee sees that civilizations are contemporaneous. “Whatever chronology might say, Thucydides' world and my world had now proved to be philosophically contemporary. History in the sense of histories of human societies, so called civilizations, revealed itself as a sheaf of parallel contemporary and recent essays in a new enterprise”. This again is proved by the fact that there are in actual presence in the world today, though in a torpid condition, many primitive communities in out of the way places like New Guinea, Tierra del fuego etc. and Siberia, which now have begun to move again. And secondly, we find that the smallest intelligible fields of historical study were whole societies and not arbitrarily insulated fragments of them like the native states. There is thirdly parallelism of all these.

* In his Magnum Opus   Study of  History,  Prof. Toynbee  indeed  canvasses a  much  larger  panorama

than his own  summary  above  suggests.


Prof. Toynbee recognizes that his view is similar to Spengler’s thesis which postulates the birth, growth and decline of human societies like human beings. This cylical view is however a priori and non-empirical. It is not as if the passing of the individual means a complete passing ; like- wise the passing of the society does not mean its entire banishment. There is a something absorbed and prepared for a greater successor. History is not cyclic merely, except in appearance. It is not a mechanical process. It is the masterful, progressive execution of a divine plan which is revealed to us in this fragmentary glimpse of the civilization at the top and another relegated to the limbo, so to speak, awaiting its opportunity and turn to play its role. Prof. Toynbee sees clearly that whilst every race had contributed to civilization, the black races have yet to play their part. There is again the inexplicability of the failure of the Mayaic civilization in the Andes and the collapse of the Aztecs. Nor are we able to explain how the sword triumphs over reason. And the question is very pertinent whether the Higher religions will make for the survival of the human society against the threats of machanized civilization with its robotising of men and use of atom-power.


The Greaco-Indian view of the process of History is that it is cyclical. Indeed there is an eternal recurrence so to speak ; ages of  gold are succeeded by those of silver, and copper and iron, or in another manner Ages of Truth are followed by those of Dharma, and Kama and Artha. There is the hope of an ascent to the age of Truth from that of Artha and Iron. Dropping for a while the long periods astronomically reckoned, these four ages may be considered to be not after all a pessimistic view which promises the golden return, the Utopia wherein truth in all its four parts would be established not in contradiction to the others but in a synthesis of the lower values and ends under and through the highest concept.


Prof. Toynbee rightly looks forward then to the manifestation of the divine plan, which obviously is beyond the human powers. He tries to synthesise the above Greaco-Indian view with the Jewish Zoroastrian view of continuous progress. “After all if a vehicle is to move forward on a course which its driver has set, it must be borne along on wheels that turn monotonously round and round, while civilizations rise and fall and in falling give rise to others, some purposeful enterprise higher than others, may all the time be making headway, and in a divine plan, the learning that comes through suffering caused by the failures of civilizations may be the sovereign means of progress”. (p. 15). A reconciliation between the cyclical and the progressive views of History may thus be got and this in a sense may be seen to be the incorporation of the two dialectics of Hegel and Croce in the concrete presentation of History with the added significance that this is an occult process unintelligible to the reason.


Criticising Professor Toynbee, Professor G. M. Trevelyan*  makes out that so far as he could see there can be no theory of the historical process. Prof. Toynbee’s conception of History as a series of episodes or outbursts of activity in one region and then in another is interesting. The attempt to discover which challenges get which response is all worthy but there are indeed challenges which get no response whatever. Further the emergence of great men has always diverted the course of history. Nor could it be claimed that the same type of challenges gets the same type of response. It is indeed recognised by Prof. Toynbee that in this incapacity to respond lies the failure and arrest and decay of civilizations. There is according to Prof. Trevelyan a large play of chance – ‘this arbitrary choice of Fate is constantly repeating itself every moment of time’ rather than

G. M. Trevelyan : An Autobiography and Other Essays. p 82 ff an essay on “Stray Thoughts on History (1948)”

history repeating itself. There can be two ways of reading history as a repetition of events or as a non-repetition of events. On the other hand, history by itself may be treated more like an unfolding poem and it is only philosophy which tries to extract a scheme or a pattern from this process. Hegel may call it the development of the idea of freedom or the realisation of the Absolute, or Lord Acton may hold that this freedom grows out of the balance of opposing forces. But as for himself he has just a love of good things and hatred of bad and this bias alone is sufficient to guide the reading of History and the writing of History. Behind this denial of the ability to discern in events any ‘inevitability’ or logical necessity or any teleological purpose ‘that far-off event to which all creation moves’ which Tennyson envisages, one can see the critical appreciation by Prof. Trevelyan of the fact that freedom (by which is meant the freedom to shape the future according to the highest moral purposes) plays an important role in the conception of history as poetic experience. Count Hermann Keyserling held that there is an antinomy between the two views of History, namely that (1)  history is a logical process, and (2) ideas and theories prevalent in a state count for nothing. The logic of history is governed not by the logical ideas or thoughts of the members as such. There is a spiritual process at work which works itself out in accordance with its own laws. This need not at all be according to the ideas and theories floating on the surface-consciousness. Only those ideas among the vast number of floating ideas, (or as Leibniz  might  say ‘possible’) which correspond with the spirit of the times, that is to say which appear  obvious  to  the  period  in  question,  get  approved and this might be referred to a psychic  reality   which  corresponds  to   the   unconscious  will   of   that  period. The fact that certain ideas get accepted however much they may be repugnant to intelligence of the past bespeaks of the real condition of the soul of the people or the period. It may be logically false but becomes ‘compossible’ in the history of the people. Says Hermann Keyserling “To the extent ideas are the exponents of historic realities then logical development will be reflex of these, but not logical development be the exponent of historical realities”. (World in the Making-p. 207).


Thus the process of History must be understood from the totality of the psychically real, which comprehends or contains both (ideas and bare facts). The crucial fact however is the psychic reality. An analysis of the psyche reveals (i) a smallest minority even know what they are actually doing, (ii) creative action springs from the founts of the unconscious, (iii) a great many ideas are only interpreted as subjective compensations of true reality, and (iv) smallest number of ideologies are true.


And thus the psyche is almost the universal basic Unconscious, a superindividual if it might be so named, from which all the individuals take rise and seek ends, accept or approve or move towards ends of which they are but faintly conscious. The ideas which they propound and hug are symbols of a deep unconscious demand. In one sense it is that which grants momentum to the intellect or restricts the past body of the ideation or system. Thus when serious men wistfully look backward to the golden age or the age of Liberalism or Neutralism they are aware of the disjunction between their own ideals which no longer command the acceptance of the ‘psyche’ of the age nor correspond to the new ideals and ideas which have become ‘obvious’ to it.


Ages of rationalism are succeeded by ages of irrationalism. There is thus compensatory action even in the swing of the pendulum of the psyche which contains both the intellectual and the romantic ideals. That the liberal arts no longer hold the centre of consciousness is not a wonder because the cult of the chaffeur, the mechanic, the practical scientist has taken the stage. This is a version of the cyclical progress from humanities to science, from truth and goodness and law of human conduct to the possessive life of triumph over Nature. Every age gets its prophet, and such a sage or prophet is above all in close touch with the time-spirit or the psyche which makes him  divine its direction and clearly lead his people or the state. The prophet is a realist. Such was Rousseau. Such a person was Lenin according to Keyserling. But we must assume that the age of Lenin has passed. The age seems to be with Gandhi and Nehru. Such men have the initiative of the Spirit ; such are persons in whom the ‘real idea’ of the ‘one world’ has become flesh. They do not possess ‘theoretically’ the idea ; they might not be even clear about its detailed presentation. They do not, like idealists, merely abuse the wicked world ; they go about redeeming it according to their dominant ‘elemental’ unconscious psychic reality, which moves millions to one grand upsurge of transformation. That this transformation or conversion of the social conscience may not be permanent does not bother them in the least. Theirs is the optimum of energy of the psyche in a free movement of itself in the lives of the community, race or humanity itself. And it appears as an awakening to the great creative possibility of itself. The prophet thus becomes a statesman  and the liberator of mankind. He accepts the responsibility of his task, the task the Zeit geist has

called upon him to perform.


Summarising in the words of Sri Aurobindo :


“           Scientific history has been conceived as if it must be a record and appreciation of the environmental motives of Political action of the play of economic forces and developments and the course of institutional evolution.


The few who still value the psychological element have kept their eye fixed on individuals and are not far from conceiving of history as a mass of biographies.


The true and more comprehensive science of the future will see that these conditions apply to the imperfectly selfconscious period of national development.”


Sri Aurobindo : HUMAN CYCLE, p39. (Am. Ed.)


So far we have surveyed the attempts of the most great and fine minds of history, philosophy and religion who have attempted to give us the explanation of the process. There seems to be the necessity for a belief in religion and higher spirituality to make us strive after a transcendent goal, which seems to be the meaning and purpose of all this creative adventure.


Though he sought to deny finalism in favour of Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson, was at last convinced that the destiny of the evolution was to make Gods on earth ; though some thinkers question why we should ever think that evolution would get its finest product on earth at all.

*  We have also theories of Progress which trace development of individuals and their societies or communities through hunting, pastoral, agricultural, industrial stages. This cultural epoch theory is of the same order as the biogenetic theory in a sense that ‘each individual recapitulates the evolution of the race’ –  ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny ‘.  This view is very valuable in educational theories. In India, this conception of process or development is from Sudra to Vaisya, Vaisya to Ksatriya and Ksatriya to Brahmana – labour to capital, capital to conquest, conquest to self conquest or culture. The second correspondence is from Bramacharya (Sudra) to Grahastha (Vaisya), Grahastha to Vanaprastha (Ksatriya), Vanaprastha to Sanyasa (Brahmana). This is individual recapitulation.


The scientific mind of H. G. Wells and Sir Charles Galton and Darwin can see in the future nothing more glorious than the degeneration of the human, as there can be nothing of the modification of the mind of man that is absolutely necessary for the transcendence of the contradictions. Even the modern mood of Bertrand Russell does not change the prospect of a scientific triumph over the barbarian within us. The speculative genius of these scientific men does not see any way by which the entropy-law could be circumvented. Whilst we live we ought to make the best of our virtues and make life happy for all. Socialism in a sense is all that we can achieve, and like Stoics (the Stoics however believed in a divine spirit every where) accept with grace the world that is around us. But the very consciousness of a transcendent destiny for man or for evolution of life is abolished. There is not so much of an atheism as an agnosticism in this unwillingness to trust the inner pulse of spirit within each which yearns for freedom from the precariousness of all life and society and civilization.


So far my study of the philosophies of history shows that almost all the standpoints are partial explanations and not one of them is capable of helping us to discover the meaning and process of History fully ; even taken together they do not become a consistent explanation. I cannot venture to present to you any constructive thesis. But let me indicate the Philosophy of History which Indian thought has presented.


The Philosophy of History in Indian Thought:-


The philosophy of History in Indian Thought is, as is to be expected, closely linked with the concept of purushartha and of God. The purpose of evolution or process is to realise freedom, moksa ; and moksa is therefore called the parama-purushartha. The economic and vital satisfactions and fulfilments are indeed the lower ends which are more or less organic ends of life in general. The evolutionary history or creation story is shown to have one purpose, the realisation of the Absolute in and through the process as the fundamental truth. Indeed there have been a large number of interpretations of the realisation of the Absolute, and the theories of realisation are closely tied up with them. The realisation of the Nature of the Absolute is said to be the purpose of  this process, which is otherwise meaningless Maya, indescribable illusion and delirium of the will to be separate. Thus in one sense the creative history is the increasing realisation of the heterogeneity as the real, but such a realisation leads to sorrow. This pravrtti is self-destroying in its effects. Nivrtti, the return to the Identity or Oneness, is the significant reversal to be made by the soul. This is indeed the negation of the historical and the attainment of the eternal. Thus there is a school of thought which assumes the contradiction between the temporal history or process and the eternal state of non-process. Transcendence of history is the truth to be striven after assiduously. History is bondage. The Absolute has no history.


Whilst this view is held by a large number of philosophers, yet there is another view also shared by an equally large number. History is not merely a tracing of the course of events with just the intimation of causal connection needed to explain succession of events. It is a significant perception of the events as interrelated to a totality which exceeds the human level of mind and includes the sub-human and the supra-human forces operating in and through the events. The world of experience is the world of the Absolute which is the creator of the process and the sustainer of it. Further the Indian conception of History also saw behind the process of the reigns of kings and the struggles of men the extraordinary movement of the Divine process which was upholding the law and putting down the unlaw and showing that all causes breed their effects in and through the plane to which one prepares oneself. The law of karma is the strict law of equation of causes and their effects ; though quantitatively true at the level of matter it becomes significantly true and equal in a qualitative sense also. It operates between the individual in his two incarnations or rebirths as well as between the individual and his environment within which his activities had their resultant effects. And since man lives not only among men but preys on other animals as well, the consequences of  his activities on the sub-human levels are also included in this law of commensurate effects or deserts. Nor is that the limit, since it might also be shown that the improvidence of man in respect of inorganic things (e.g. in respect of food, water, light or air or metal or fuel) leads to distressing consequences which rebound on his existence and make life itself intolerable and unsufferable. Thus the process of History can be shown to be a struggle for survival against Nature (even as the Darwinians claim) with all its consequences in respect of the forces of Nature. The Modern age is once again witnessing on a colossal scale and in an undreamt of manner the harnessing of Nature to man’s economic and amusement needs, needs which are unfortunately not the highest nor the most helpful to his realisation. As against the impoverishment of Nature to satisfy the men, lusting after comfort, we have also a second endeavour made to utilize the animal kind also firstly as a method of survival against competing lives and latterly as a method of feeding and clothing mankind. These two have mounted up to phenomenal scales. All these have made man undoubtedly a king among animals, dependent however on Nature and animal. Culture was a word connoting strength, freedom from dependence on Nature and animal, but now it has become a byeword for enjoyment and comfort. It is such ages as these that are stated to be asuric ages or kali ages.


Hindu thought conceived Time as divided into the cyclical progress of four kinds of ages : krta when dharma rules with all its four legs (the metaphor is that of the cow of dharma), the treta (when dharma rules with three feet standing), the dvapara (when the dharma rules with two feet standing), and kali (when it stands on one foot alone).*  The ages move on in a cyclical manner. But this does not mean that there is eternal recurrence in respect of the individuals and the events as Nietzsche held, but the process of creation proceeds on the general pattern of this division of time. There has been also the view that this process is cyclical because it is concerned not merely with individuals but with the entire souls which are on the ascending process of evolution to greater freedom. The concept of time is closely linked up with the dharma or the law of liberating endeavour or freedom. A secondary conception has been introduced by the saints who have held that even though the large mass of mankind is under the grip of  kali (kama and artha), the presence of dharma cannot be denied and indeed can be availed of by the mystical yogi. The yogi then can create for himself the krta yuga and can manage to create it for a large number. This is the passion for the Kingdom of God on Earth. It is also conceded that this return to the krta from kali is by an act of descent of the Absolute into the creation, an avatar, to restore the dharma on its four legs (in respect of purusharthas which are four) and (which are related very integrally to the concept of the four ashramas and varnas) dharmasamsthapanaya. Thus History is the recurrent feature of this avatars periodically whenever dharma declines utterly and the principle

  *     Sri Aurobindo refers to the Psychological  Theory of  Human  Social  Development of  Lamprecht Which  assumes  it  to  have  passed  through  four  distinct  stages  :  viz. Symbolic,  Typal, Conventional  and  Individual-subjective;  these  four  stages  are  cyclical. 


of revolution, constructive and not destructive, is introduced in fact. If at each age we find that the revolution brings about a degeneration of values, there is a fundamental revolution towards the restoration of the highest values of  liberty of the soul and responsibility for works and the beneficient acquisition and service subsumed under the general principles of moksha and dharma.


It is true Hindu thought also conceived of the intermediate attempts by great seers to restore the krta even during the periods of treta, dvapara and kali. Thus subdivisions of the yugas have also been made such as periods of krta in treta dvapara and kali, and so on. All these can be granted provided we also appreciate the principle behind the conception of the four yugas to be the general structure of time in relation to the transcendent influx or ingresion of fundamental values which are apprehended and chosen by the minds of great men (mahatmas) in each age.


Thus we have the concept of the ‘entropy’ or decadence view of reality along with the renewal view of History, justifying the faith in the religious values and power of the Absolute spirit. The complexity of the evolutionary history is such that we can have ever so many views. The decay of lower forms or their abolition may presage the appearance of higher levels of consciousness and ability, more freely to dominate the lower forms and to meet the changing conditions of Nature already modified by prior evolutionary forces. There may also be non-return to the lower. The process of evolution need not be exactly cyclical, for it may really be considered to be spiral, which conception includes the truth of the cyclical and the progressive. The great aim of Indian evolutionary thought is to pass beyond the human level of ignorance, conflict and division to attain the status of harmony and beatitude, and truth and knowledge, a status that is transcendent to the human world. This is the didactic of the itihasa and the purana.


The purana panchalaksana’ includes the five-fold concept of the creation (sarga), sustention, (sthiti) and samhara (dissolution), the reigns of rulers and avatars and rishis and the description of society with its dharma and the purusharthas. The transcendent state of mukti is undoubtedly gleaned to be the one increasing purpose behind all creation and process. God or the Universal Spirit, single and utterly transcendent to process is to be realised, for in that lies our peace (santi). The Process of  History is to reveal the significance of God in creative life. And in the lives of the individuals this godhead plays a significant part by revealing Himself to them as their inner soul and self and truth and the love or Grace in the process. The philosophy of History accordingly is the explanation of the progress – which is the grand sweep of the divine events and not human wars and reigns of heroes even, not merely the ideological battles of haves and have-nots, nor again the vital battles for lebensraum and exploitation and colonisation. This spiritual interpretation of the History may be said to be one of progress in the real sense of the term, for ultimately the destiny of time is to reveal itself to be the exhibition of the Timeless Being, in and through the many who are inseparably related to it.


1.Sarga, Pratisarga, Vamsa, Manvantara, Vamsanucarita.

“Sargasca  pratisargasca  vamso  manvantarani  ca,

 Vamsanucaritam  caiva  puranapancalaksanam.

The Pancaratra1 gave us the conception of the five-fold nature of the Godhead, as the transcendent, as creator-destroyer-sustainer, as the historical avatars and the inner Ruler Immortal in all, and lastly but not least as the radiant person of worshippability in our temples The Purana Pancalaksanas give us the conception of history as the correlative archetypal representation of the apprehension and realisation of that Divine in all his five forms, and as the progressive evolution of the soul through the several stages of His Nature and his Society.


We can see thus that the philosophy of History as the growth and fall of civilizations conforms to the concept of the Vyuha of the Purana and Pancaratra. The philosophy of History as the life and exploits of great men who have helped shape its progress and survival, and who have striven to establish eternal values or dharma, moral and religious and aesthetic, comes close to the vibhava or avatar concept of the puranas and pancaratra ; though there is a difference in this that the Divine Descent is for the larger purpose of evolutionary mutation to the higher level than a mere restoration of eternal dharma by means of a revolutionary spirituality. The Philosophy of History as the evolution guided towards the Transcendent realisation by even a negation of it is seen to be the truth about the Para or Timeless concept of the Absolute. The eternal speculum (sub specie eternitatis) denies the temporal speculum according to some, but in the concept of Sri Aurobindo this is substituted by the mediating concept of the Supermind to which the double revelation of the eternal and the temporal is luminously interfused and made real and necessary to each other. The temporal would cease to be the manifestation of the Ignorance but become the Platonic ‘moving image of eternity’. The process is not merely concerning the individuals but also the collective many because they are truths necessary to each other. The materialistic interpretation of History accordingly gets its sanction in the concept of antaryamin whose realisation in each makes the individual of unique value and significance to the collective reality and the Whole and towards each. History thus becomes the living experience simultaneously and successively in all its multiple status and includes fully all planes and purposes of highest value.


The Puranas however must be said to have left behind the integral view though they seem to have felt the need for it. At least this inference follows from the present structure of the puranas. A full and complete history must contain the psychological as well as the metaphysical and the biological and the axiological evolutions, both in the collective and the individual. This would be a complete conception of history. It would then be known as the integral philosophy of History, which would give meaning to the temporal process and significance to the theories of evolution, of facts of transmutation and rebirth.


If a philosophy of History must truly be integral, it must be capable of giving meaning to the facts of evolution and mutation, emergence of different levels of life, vitality, mind and overmind and spiritual realisations which at once releasing the higher subsume the lower under the laws of the higher. Reason has come to stay with man, but in the collective history of the peoples of the world Reason is only just now coming to play an important part, through the conceptions of one world, cooperative activity rather than competitive conflicts even when each individual or group or nation is imbued with selfish motives. But the one spiritual reality needs must fulfil itself in History. Our philosophy of History whilst being objective should not miss the important subjective psychological and supramental factors urging the world and its members to spiritual fulfilment of Saccidananda at all levels.


1.       Idea of God : K. C. Varadachari


Thus our ancients attempted to present all the trends which have been in one sense or other redacted by the moderns in the West. But it must be said that Sri Aurobindo in his ‘Human Cycle’ presents a next step as the consequence of the study of the tendencies of Philosophies of History canvassed by both the ancient past and the immediate present. An organic conception which includes the dynamical unfolding of the Spirit inherent in the eternal and the temporal, individual and the collective, personal and the impersonal, is the result.