Guide to The Introduction to the Philosophy of History
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Stanley Hoffmann asserted that to find the basis of Aron’s political thought it was necessary to go back to his philosophy of history. Chronologically this is obvious: the books he wrote about German sociology and the theory of history, together with his doctoral thesis, the Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire, prior to the Second World War, precede his political work. It is not therefore surprising that his later ideas can be found in an embryonic form in these works. However, Raymond Aron goes as far as to assert that the purpose of these early texts is political. His Introduction, he says, "could have been entitled Introduction to Political Thought, or historical thought" and, even a stronger assertion, what is "essential" in this work is the research into the "existential conditions of political decision-making." On various occasions Aron presented his "research program" for his life as an awakening from a "vocational crisis". How can an observer immersed in history grasp this huge whole unless from a necessarily individual point of view? A subject in search of the truth is immersed in a subject-matter from which, like an economist or historian, he wants to extract its object. This naïve or even delusional intuition, has its first materialization, for reasons of circumstance, as often happens in life, in the book Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire. In his new project he sees himself compelled to express his own version of the "critique of historical reason", transposed into a more or less phenomenological language. "Historical reason" is defined by the understanding of motives - logic of a situation or passional impulses - as distinct from causal explanations. In writing his Mémoires Aron considers that he essentially remained faithful to this initial project, which at the time provoked lively reactions in spite of the rationalistic, or intellectualistic, inspiration that he ascribes to it.