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Tragedy and History

The German Influence on Raymond Aron’s Political Thought

Scott B. Nelson

This work examines the cohesion of Raymond Aron’s political thought and argues that its unifying principles are to be found in certain intellectual problems he came upon early in life through his study of German thought. These problems consist of the relation between man and history, knowledge and action, and philosophy and politics. They are explored in three intertwined facets of Aron’s thought – History, Sociology, and Praxeology – which are elaborated by setting Aron in dialogue with three key German thinkers: Dilthey, Marx, and Weber respectively. This work argues that the roots of Aron’s political thought reach back to the 1930s and that his ongoing meditation on the philosophical problems raised at that time endure and provide the framework for his thought for the rest of his life.

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1b Influence of Historicism: Dilthey


Aron shares with Dilthey the emphasis on man in history: Aron’s intellectual journey begins by adding the two words, in history, to the three Kantian questions: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope?155 The significance of this historical aspect extends beyond man merely being in history; man is also historical and, finally, man is a history.156 This pithy observation is the culmination of Aron’s primary dissertation, Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire, which he envisioned as his personal version of the critique of historical reason.157 The framework of Aron’s intellectual journey is laid out in this important work, which showcases Aron’s substantial departure from what he had been taught in France.

Along with Edmund Husserl and the phenomenologists on the one side, and Max Scheler and Max Weber on the other, Dilthey’s place in this study is justified, for he suggests “the problematic that has fascinated me all my life: the specific features of consciousness of man by man or of human history by an historically situated subject, the relation between knowledge and action and, in the end, between philosophy and politics.”158

The critique of historical reason begins with Dilthey, therefore we will proceed by examining the following: The Diltheyan revolution: Dilthey’s place in the development of 19th century German thought. Aron’s reading of Dilthey’s Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften. The problem of grasping truth in history.

The Diltheyan Revolution

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