Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Johann P. Arnason
The Philosopher in the Middle of History
This is the first of two papers on Hans Blumenberg’s work. The interpretation stresses its multi-faceted and unfinished character; Blumenberg combines a philosophical elucidation of history with anthropological reflection, a theory of culture and a project of ‘metaphorology’, dealing with the imaginary presuppositions of reason. Here an attempt is made to read Blumenberg with a view to implicit lessons for the comparative analysis of civilizations. Blumenberg did not venture into that field, and it can be shown that he failed to spell out civilizational connections even when they, in retrospect, seem very obvious. But some of his key themes, especially the problematic of epochs constituted by articulations of and attitudes to the world, overlap with those of civilizational analysts. The epochs most extensively discussed by Blumenberg are late antiquity, late medieval times, and early modernity; in all three cases, further debates must take note of changing emphases in historical scholarship. However, the complex and ambivalent notion of autonomy that is central to Blumenberg’s understanding of the modern age is a contribution of lasting value. In preparation for closer examination of philosophical issues in a sequel, this paper then concludes with a brief description of Blumenberg’s intellectual trajectory, from an early ethical project to pronounced scepticism about normative aspirations.