Has study of historical events taught us wiser views?
What does History teach us about Human Nature?
The following quotations may help to persuade that study of History can teach us wiser, more encompassing, views as to what people
have done due to promptings arising from the complexities innate to Human Nature.
We may live in hope of those in authority pursuing wiser policies arising from appreciation of what study of history has taught us.
"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it
teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
R. G. Collingwood
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human
nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is
therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than
humanity is free." ...
Introduction to the History of Philosophy
As to what has History taught us about Human Nature, and what study of episodes and themes across centuries of History can teach us,
it is undoubtedly worthwhile to consider some Ancient Wisdom.
In his major work, The Republic, Plato describes an Ideal State where some people are producers, some are defenders and a few are
At one point Plato reports Socrates as saying:
...can we possibly refuse to admit that there exist in each
of us the same generic parts and characteristics as are found in
the state? For I presume the state has not received them from any
other source. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the presence
of the spirited element in cities is not to be traced to
individuals, wherever this character is imputed to the people, … or the love of knowledge,
… or the love of riches …
In southern England in the later part of the ninth century A.D. King Alfred the Great authorised, and may have personally
contributed to, a translation of Boethius' work "The Consolations of Philosophy."
Whilst this translation is not today held to be fully accurate it was published under the royal authority of Alfred as
King of Wessex.
"… you know that desire for and possession of earthly power never pleased me overmuch, and that I did not unduly desire this earthly rule,
but that nevertheless I wished for tools and resources for the task that I was commanded to accomplish, which was that I should
virtuously and worthily guide and direct the authority which was entrusted to me. You know of course that no-one can make known
any skill, nor direct and guide any enterprise, without tools and resources; a man cannot work on any enterprise without
resources. In the case of the king, the resources and tools with which to rule are that he have his land fully manned: he
must have praying men, fighting men and working men. You know also that without these tools no king may make his ability known."
Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources
Much of Western Europe featured dynastic rulers, church hierarchies, "ennobled lords", and large numbers of agricultural laborers, artisans and
traders for MORE THAN one thousand years after the Fall of the Roman Empire in the west until well into the nineteen-hundreds.
The foundations for such a societal division of roles were laid down, and built upon, circa 700 AD. The resulting Ruler / Cleric / Nobleman /
Laborer-Artisan-Trader societal dispensations might be held to have arisen from the "Tripartite" practicalities of Human Existence,
(Production, Defence and Governance), but such
division of roles
proved highly resilient allowing such societal arrangements to endure,
(with some limited adaptations), for very many centuries.
On our Historical Evidences of Tripartism page these, ENDURING, societal arrangements are suggested of as arising from Human Nature and "that
there exist in each of us the same generic parts and characteristics as are found in the state"
In what is perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous essay - 'History' - we read such things as:
… There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He
that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought,
he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has be-fallen any man, he can
understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is
the only and sovereign agent.
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days.
Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes
forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in
appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist
in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature
give power to but one at a time.…
… We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience, and verifying them
here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography. Every
mind must know the whole lesson for itself, -- must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it
does not live, it will not know.…
… In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre
of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the
soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object
in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose
flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to
inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg
presuppose air. He cannot live without a world. …
In an essay entitled "The Over-Soul" Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that:
"...The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her. She has
no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul; the web of events
is the flowing robe in which she is clothed. ...
Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists
in the means, the fruit in the seed.
Ralph Waldo Emerson