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Understanding Hegel's prominence and Burckhardt's dislike of abstract, philosophical history, necessitates examining the intellectual process that preceded it. Hegel's philosophical history represented the highest expression of a tradition that began with the work of Thucydides. It develops what Thucydides expressed, regarding the purpose of his own work:

To hear this history rehearsed, for that there be inserted in it no fables, shall be perhaps not delightful. But he that desires to look into the truth of things done, and which (according to the condition of humanity) may be done again, or at least their like, he shall find enough herein to make him think it profitable. And it is compiled rather for an everlasting possession, than rehearsed for a prize.6

Thucydides' method separates history, events which occurred in the past, from myth, events existing only in the imagination. By extracting history from myth, according to Thucydides, a set of eternal truths can be collected. A detailed, rational analysis of past events should consequently produce an understanding of human existence, applicable to the present. Furthermore, Thucydides' analysis takes into account events on a large scale as the most important aspect of human history, individuals attaining significance only in relation to them. It follows, then, that Thucydides and his successors accounted for political and military events to the almost complete exclusion of other aspects of history.

Hegel advanced the Thucydidean method to its logical extreme by describing the goal of historical study as the extraction of ontological truth from human events and presenting a theologically oriented method to do so:

The Idea is truly the leader of nations and of the world; and it is the spirit, with its rational and necessary will, which has directed and continues to direct the events of world history. To gain an understanding of it and its guiding influences is the aim of the present investigation.7

Both Hegel and Thucydides believed that their researches would reveal truths applicable to events beyond their own age. Hegel's presentation differed through his system of metaphysics which he held to govern history as a phenomena. He explained how the spirit may be comprehended:

The truth is inherently universal, essential, and substantial; and as such it exists solely in thought and for thought. But that spiritual principal which we call God is none other than the . . . source of all thought, and its thought is inherently creative; we encounter it as such in world history . . .8


6. Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, trans. Thomas Hobbes (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1989), I.22.
7.
Hegel, 24.
8. Ibid., 40.
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