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Beyond Historicism: From Leibniz to Luhmann

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

The phrase ‘beyond historicism’ is usually associated with Bielefeld historians like Hans Ulrich Wehler and Jürgen Kocka, who attempted to turn the study of history into a social science, but a better candidate would be the sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who happened to teach as well in Bielefeld during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Luhmann had little affinity with the project of his colleagues from the history department. He took the opposite view that the social sciences suffered from a naive enlightenment view and should become more history minded. Like the historicists of the early nineteenth century Luhmann was indirectly inspired by the philosophy of Leibniz. Although Luhmann’s theory of social systems may seem miles away from the daily interests of most historians, it can be interpreted as an Aufhebung of historicism. This will be demonstrated for two important concepts, the autopoietic system which incorporates the historicist notion of individuality and the concept of second order observation which can be read as an abstract redescription of what historicists meant by the historical method.

Affiliations: 1: University of Groningen, Email:


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