After the Ends of History: Hermeneutic Philosophy of History and Micronarratives

Activity: Talk or presentationConference presentation


At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama presented his provocative thesis of liberal democracy as an “end of history,” as the culmination of political history in a system of freedom and mutual recognition. Fukuyama invokes the teleological philosophy of history of Hegel, Marx, and Alexandre Kojève that sees the historical process as fueled by intellectual, social, and economic contradictions whose ultimate resolution will remove the driving force behind substantial historical development.

Fukuyama’s thesis contrasts conspicuously with Jean-François Lyotard’s equally provocative 1979 analysis of the “postmodern condition” in which grand “metanarratives”—post-Hegelian teleological narratives of universal history—lose their credibility due to the increasing fragmentation of knowledge. Instead of an end of history, Lyotard predicts the end of History as a universal metanarrative and its replacement by “micronarratives,” local histories whose limited scopes accommodate the existence of other, mutually incommensurate narratives.

I look at this contemporary conflict between metanarratives and micronarratives in the light of Heideggerian and Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics, which subscribes to the Hegelian notions that ideas and discourses are historically situated and that history is always narrated from its end but rejects the teleology of an ultimate “absolute knowledge.” Our contemporary framework of thinking is an outcome of a specific historical tradition, and we can never look at this tradition from an objective or neutral standpoint, but always from the finite contemporary perspective as its “end.” Our self-understanding requires us to form consistent narratives of our tradition, but these narratives can only be heuristic and temporary. We can and must narrate our past; we cannot narrate our future. This hermeneutic idea of the situatedness of historical narratives has had a decisive influence on the
“narrative turn” in philosophy of history (Hayden White, Paul Ricoeur), and on Foucauldian discursive genealogies aiming at “critical ontologies of ourselves.”
Period18 Jun 2024
Event title20th annual conference of the Nordic Society for Phenomenology: Between Past and Future: Existence, Embodiment, and Historicity
Event typeConference
LocationTrondheim, NorwayShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Country of activity

  • Norway

Nature of activity

  • Scientific