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The old saying that the failure to learn from history dooms us to repeat it is explicitly saying that studying history is extremely important. From a purely superficial standpoint, it would seem like a valid argument. History, however, can be distorted. History is written by the victor. Translations to different languages can unwhittingly change facts and details which can potentially alter the entire meaning. It is important to understand what historical figures and events stood for, and what it represents on an abstract level. For example, George Washington was the first president of the United States who fought for freedom, independence, and for largely individualist principles during the Revolutionary War. He certainly wasn't the perfect Randian Objectivist, but his principles are largely documented and provided from older source materials. He wasn't a perfect man, but he was still a great one.

On a deeper level, it would seem the ideas are more important than the events. Back to the question at the top, it is also important to ask who would find the study of philosophy more important than history. I would answer that question with everyone. I find the textbooks in history classes excessively cerebral and too objective, merely naming facts, events, and details without ever really going into moral or philosophical depth. It's mind-gratingly frustrating to read and makes it difficult to learn in school for this reason.

In addition, I'm also curious if storytellers who value philosophy more than history end up Romanticizing their characters. Would this be a detriment to a film based on actual events, portraying real, perhaps flawed people as characters with consistant moral backgrounds?

asked Apr 21 '14 at 11:19

Collin1's gravatar image

Collin1
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edited Apr 21 '14 at 12:00


Is the study of philosophy more important than the study of history?

Why is it necessarily either-or? Why not both? Also, "important" to whom and for what? There are many possible answers for relative importance depending on the "whom" and the "what." Ayn Rand wanted to be a writer (of fiction), so she studied both history and philosophy in college. As Jeff Britting explains in his 2004 biography of Ayn Rand (pp. 20, 22, 24):

In 1921, at the age of 16, she [AR] enrolled in Petrograd State University as a history major. She selected history in order to acquire a factual understanding of man's development, with a concentration on medieval Europe, because it presented a "stylized," completely un-Soviet subject matter. [She desperately sought contrast with her native country.] She also studied philosophy, in order to achieve an objective definition of her values.... Rand finished her coursework in 1924 and graduated with honors, her transition into young adulthood now complete. She had studied philosophy, but -- with the exception of Aristotle -- found it unhelpful in defining her values.

In We the Living, Part One, Chapter XI (p. 126 in the 1959 Signet paperback edition), Ayn Rand describes Leo as studying history and philosophy at the Petrograd State University.

The questioner explains:

I find the textbooks in history classes excessively cerebral and too objective, merely naming facts, events, and details without ever really going into moral or philosophical depth. It's mind-gratingly frustrating to read and makes it difficult to learn in school for this reason.

"Objective" in this formulation apparently means narrowly factual, without explanation of the wider significance. As the question points out, the study of history needs to encompass far more than narrowly factual events, names, dates and places. If one can't find a suitable classroom environment conducive to the proper study of history, then one will need to find it somewhere else, depending on how deeply one seeks to delve into history at all. Studying history doesn't have to mean taking classes in it. (The same goes for philosophy.)

I'm also curious if storytellers who value philosophy more than history end up Romanticizing their characters. Would this be a detriment to a film based on actual events, portraying real, perhaps flawed people as characters with consistant[sic] moral backgrounds?

If history that focuses mainly on concrete events and details is "frustrating to read and makes it difficult to learn," why would one want to see the same thing in works of art such as motion pictures (even if the film is intended to be a journalistic nonfiction documentary, i.e., a work of history)? Wouldn't one actively want to seek out films that Romanticize their characters and stories -- films that portray man as the volitional being that he is, especially in regard to his choices of values and corresponding actions? (For an overview of Objectivism's perspective on Romanticism and Naturalism in art, refer to those topics in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

answered Apr 22 '14 at 22:15

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Asked: Apr 21 '14 at 11:19

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Last updated: May 15 '14 at 05:21