HISTORY examines the manifestations of man's free will in connection with the external world in time and in dependence on cause, that is, defines that freedom by the laws of reason; and so history is only a science in so far as that freedom is defined by those laws.
To history the recognition of the free wills of men as forces able to influence historical events, that is, not subject to laws, is the same as would be to astronomy the recognition of free will in the movements of the heavenly bodies.
This recognition destroys the possibility of the existence of laws, that is, of any science whatever. If there is so much as one body moving at its free will, the laws of Kepler and of Newton are annulled, and every conception of the movement of the heavenly bodies is destroyed. If there is a single human action due to free will, no historical law exists, and no conception of historical events can be formed.
For history there exist lines of movement of human wills, one extremity of which vanishes in the unknowable, and at the other extremity of which in space, in time, and in dependence on cause, there moves men's consciousness of free will in the present.
The more this curve of movement is analysed before our eyes, the clearer are the laws of its movement. To discover and define those laws is the problem of history.
From the point of view from which the science of history now approaches its subject, by the method it now follows, seeking the causes of phenomena in the free will of men, the expression of laws by science is impossible; since however we limit the free will of men, so long as we recognise it as a force not subject to law, the existence of law becomes impossible.
Only limiting this element of free will to infinity, that is, regarding it as an infinitesimal minimum, we are convinced of the complete unattainability of causes, and then, instead of seeking causes, history sees before itself the task of seeking laws.
The seeking of those laws has been begun long ago, and the new lines of thought which history must adopt are being worked out simultaneously with the self-destruction towards which the old-fashioned history is going, forever dissecting and dissecting the causes of phenomena.
All human sciences have followed the same course. Reaching infinitesimals, mathematics, the most exact of the sciences, leaves the process of analysis and enters on a new process of approximating to summing up the unknown infinitesimals. Forsaking the conception of cause, mathematics seeks law, that is, properties common to all unknown, infinitesimal quantities.
The other sciences, too, have followed the same course, though under another form. When Newton formulated the law of gravity, he did not say that the sun or the earth has the property of attraction. He said that all bodies—from the greatest to the smallest—have the property of attracting one another; that is, leaving on one side the question of the cause of the movements of bodies, he expressed the property common to all bodies, from the infinitely great to the infinitely small. The natural sciences do the same thing; leaving on one side the question of cause, they seek for laws. History, too, is entered on the same course. And if the subject of history is to be the study of the movements of peoples and of humanity, and not episodes from the lives of individual men, it too is bound to lay aside the idea of cause, and to seek the laws common to all the equal and inseparably interconnected, infinitesimal elements of free will.