Temporalities and territories : the geopolitical imaginary of German philosophies of history

Krogh, Marie Louise (2020) Temporalities and territories : the geopolitical imaginary of German philosophies of history. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


To counter the deeply-entrenched disciplinary reluctance to consider the history of philosophy’s overlaps with the histories of empire and colonisation, this thesis draws on insights from postcolonial studies to argue that one way to reckon with these histories is through a critical analysis of the ‘geopolitical imaginary’ of philosophy and its construction out of so-called discovery literatures. While the thesis is, as a whole, specifically focused on German philosophies of history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the importance of discovery literature to the emergence of the modern concept of history is in Part One interrogated in relation to how time in the eighteenth century was spatialised, as temporal distance came to be projected onto peoples across the globe. Joseph-François Lafitau’s Moeurs des sauvages amériquains comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps (1724) is here shown to have paradigmatically articulated a regime of comparability through which a shift from a view of ‘savages’ as exemplars of ‘natural man’ to that of ‘primitive man’ could be effected. Against this background, Part Two constructs three critical models in the philosophy of history in order to articulate different inscriptions and projections of a geopolitical imaginary: one centred on Immanuel Kant’s concept of universal history with a cosmopolitan aim; one centred on G.W.F. Hegel’s critique of Kantian cosmopolitanism through a philosophy of world history; and one centred on Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt’s counter-teleological conception of civilisation and planetary humanity. Chapter Three demonstrates how, in the Kantian model, the concepts of race and that of cosmopolitanism are linked through a differentiated conception of the educability of humankind in the Kantian philosophy of history. Chapter Four foregrounds the centrality of Hegel’s philosophy of history to the very construction of the concept of Eurocentrism to give an account of their complex interrelation. Chapter Five argues that both a different philosophy of history and a different cosmopolitanism, which integrate a conception of cultural difference mediated through linguistic difference, is to be found within the writings of both Humboldts. With these three models, the thesis aims to escape the subsumption of all philosophies of history under a unified ‘philosophy of history’, instead seeing within each a specific configuration of notions of territory and temporality, in the projection of different geopolitical imaginaries.

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