Some, like genetic mapping and radiocarbon dating, are recent innovations; others, like genealogies, bodily analogies, and predictive modeling, are older than written history itself. The gap between deep and shallow history, we believe, can easily be bridged; indeed, great efforts must be exerted simply to keep the gap in place.
Philosophy of History
What motivates these efforts? How did they develop? And why do so many scholars think it is important to keep prehistory in its place? The fragmentation of historical time is not inherent to the study of the past. It was produced by highly contingent historical trends that were triggered and amplified by the time revolution of the s, when the short chronology, which envisioned a world roughly 6, years old, was abandoned as a geological truth, and human history began to stretch back into a limitless time before Eden.
This field was framed by religious tradition and organized in accord with the universalizing framework of the Book of Genesis, in which history and geology are coeval. Knowledge production in all the societies of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds was contained within this totalizing model of creation. Following the time revolution in Europe, however, this unified vision of human history fell apart.
The chronology of the past fractured at precisely the point where human prehistory was being grafted onto ancient and modern history, which now seemed chronologically recent. By all appearances, a history long beholden to scriptural understandings of time was incapable of absorbing the fact of deep time.
It is not difficult to find nineteenth-century historians who circled the wagons around the short chronology and declared the new, bottomless time to be anathema. Because respected scientists such as Georges Cuvier and Louis Agassiz refused to accept the new timeline, it is hardly surprising that many rank-and-file historians also proved skeptical-or, in some cases, openly resistant. A short chronology is not, in fact, intrinsic to the cosmology of the religions of the Near East. The authors of Genesis measured time as a succession of life spans and genealogies; the New Testament and Qur'an are devoid of what we would now call calendar dates.
The short chronology was in fact an artifice retroactively imposed upon scriptural traditions. This retroactive dating occurred as generations of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim chroniclers struggled to bring sacred texts into alignment with the solar and lunar calendars they had created to keep track of ritual obligations and to record the movement of creation through time. Ironically, it was the careful work of premodern and early modern historians, not the teachings of the prophets, that gave Abrahamic chronology its brittle precision, a level of detail that could date the first day of creation to the eve of Sunday, October 23, BC.
This brittleness would cause it to snap when placed under stress by the intellectual trauma of the time revolution. In a larger sense, however, the demise of the short chronology made no difference to practicing historians. In the decades following the Darwinian turn, there were historians who looked with curiosity at the strange new terrain on the other side of Eden, and, later, historical visionaries who advocated for a reunion of deep time with history.
Lacking written texts, practitioners in the emergent fields of archaeology and paleoanthropology had to develop new methods of inquiry designed to tease meaning out of scattered evidence and refractory sources. The new discipline of history, in turn, adhered to the very chronology that historians had fashioned for themselves in their vain attempts to apply a chronology to the Bible. As later chapters show, the questions that historians of the nineteenth century asked about the origins of human languages, races, agriculture, cities, and nations were often defined in specific relation to the Book of Genesis.
This is hardly surprising. The European scholars best suited to become academic historians when the discipline arose in the nineteenth century were heavily invested in intellectual traditions anchored in a biblical worldview, to which a long pedagogical tradition had added Greek and Roman learning. It is hard to imagine the works of such luminaries as Leopold von Ranke or Jacob Burckhardt outside this milieu.
Yet neither inertia nor the prestige of older intellectual traditions can explain how time got bound up in the straitjacket created by disciplinary history at the beginning of the twentieth century. The decision to truncate history was a deliberate intellectual and epistemological move, bound up with the fate of the discipline itself. By the late nineteenth century, the proud new discipline of history was shouldering its way into the academy; and to justify its presence, the field adopted as its signature methodology the analysis of written documents.
Their peers used the manual to train students in the art of ferreting out the truth that lies behind the creative omissions and downright fabrications intrinsic to historical documentation. Humanity's deeper history had no documents of this kind. This critical absence of data made a deep history of humanity methodologically unthinkable. Oddly enough, this epistemological package was also gradually accepted by cultural anthropologists, whose chronologies tend to contract whenever they attempt to historicize their discipline. The classic instance is Europe and the People without History, in which Eric Wolf tried to pry anthropology out of the ethnographic present in which he believed it was hopelessly stuck.
Wolf was not especially interested in how the kin-ordered and tributary modes had emerged in deep time; instead, he wanted to know how these modes of production were taken into a world system dominated by capitalism. As a result, although Wolf's historical analysis is based on social forms that developed sequentially over tens of thousands of years, it is limited to roughly the last five centuries.
The evidence he used to historicize the world's ahistorical peoples would satisfy the criteria devised by Langlois and Seignobos, and Wolf was unapologetic about the resulting Eurocentrism of his project. What one learns from "the study of ethnohistory," he noted, "is Wolf's intent was not to cut ethnography off from its deep historical roots but rather to open it up spatially.
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Yet his eager embrace of a history based on textual evidence led immediately to temporal foreshortening, and his five-hundred-year frame is in fact vast when compared to the studies his work inspired. It is now virtually axiomatic that any anthropological approach advertising itself as "historical" will focus on the recent past. Its subject matter will be modern or postmodern, colonial or postcolonial. Rarely is this focus perceived as narrow.
It is seen as vital, and engagement with events and societies located before European expansion, before textual evidence, is often considered politically irrelevant unless such events and societies can be interpreted-and some poststructural theorists would argue that they can only be interpreted-through intellectual lenses crafted during the great shift to colonial and postcolonial modernity.
Otherwise they are best left to classicists, medievalists, and Orientalists. If the past in question predates the emergence of literate state societies, it falls under the jurisdiction of archaeologists and biological anthropologists, whose methods of inquiry are scientific, not historical. This pattern is visible across the academy, and attempts to disturb it quickly generate resistance on all sides. Why does disciplinary history, as a set of methods and motivations, so predictably conform to this epistemological grid?
The blame lies with a commitment to human exceptionalism, a sensibility that survived the Darwinian revolution largely intact. As creation gave way to nature, the assumption that humans are part of nature, and that human systems are natural systems, slowly took hold in the biological and behavioral sciences. Among historians and cultural anthropologists, however, the equation of cultural systems with natural ones has never been easy, nor has it been easily historicized.
Both difficulties, we believe, are related to the lingering power of the metaphors that dominated history writing in the nineteenth century. The human story, in this worldview, is centered on the conquest of nature and the birth of political society. A passage from one of the works of the great French historian and archivist Jules Michelet d. History is nothing but the story of this endless conflict. The claim made here was hardly new.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has long celebrated human stewardship over nature. What gives Michelet's remark special poignancy is the fact that, even in his own day, there was a growing awareness that geological time was far older than human time and that human time itself might be deeper than hitherto imagined. A quarter of a century later, human time was known to be long indeed, and by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the history of humanity threatened to merge insensibly with natural history.
About the Book
In this changing context of time, the need to mark the break between animal and human took on special urgency. Michelet, whose opinions on this matter reflected those of his day, had already divined the solution to the conundrum. Animals live in harmony with nature. Humans, by contrast, are at war with nature. In the pious bromides of early-twentieth-century science writing, evident in a work immodestly called The Conquest of Nature, "barbaric man is called a child of Nature with full reason.
He must accept what Nature offers. But civilized man is the child grown to adult stature, and able in a manner to control, to dominate-if you please to conquer-the parent. The conquest of nature, in turn, was tightly linked to the origins of political society. In the social thought of the eighteenth century, the natural unit had been the family-or, for some, the solitary individual. Everything humans had built on top of this natural substrate, and especially the newly insistent nation-states of nineteenth-century Europe, could be treated as historical artifices and therefore beyond nature.
The history that came into being, and loudly proclaimed its own objectivity, was in many ways an apology for nationalism. It is thanks to the nation-building enterprise, in fact, that we have medieval European history, for few nations with tragic and bloody exceptions, including Napoleonic France and Hitler's Germany sought to identify explicitly with the empires or city-states of antiquity.
If the task of history was to provide the ontogeny of a single nation, that is to say a description of how the nation was born and came, through many travails, to adulthood, there was little use for Greece or Rome-outside Greece and Italy, of course-except in the lingering sense that classical antiquity belonged to a privileged Western heritage that justified the superiority of Occidental empires. Even less use was there for the periods and social forms that predated the ancient world, except to provide a holding tank for all that was not civilized or part of the modern story-what Michel-Rolf Trouillot calls "the savage slot," a time and space set aside for the world's backward and non-Occidental peoples.
In the twentieth century, disciplinary history began to roam well beyond the limits of the nation-state. Historians took up the history of ideas, civilizations, and economics. In addition, disciplinary history began to tackle subjects rigorously excluded from the history of nations: Yet history written in the Hegelian mode has had the last laugh. The history of the disempowered could have proceeded by denying agency to white male Western heteronormative political actors, the God-substitutes excised from history by Charles Darwin.
Historical Theory: Ways of Imagining the Past
But it did not. Instead, the new history has proceeded by attributing agency to subalterns located in every branch of the human family. The universal attribution of agency has become a recipe for historical research, as scholars, trapped in Hegelian logic, create new subjects by incorporating ever more voices.
Politically, the consequences of this trend have been enabling. Where the straitjacketing of time is concerned, however, the consequences have been otherwise. In the hopes of granting speech and agency to those on the receiving end of European history, we have transformed the world's subalterns into characters of a suspiciously uniform type. The very people whose inclusion was meant to be a triumph of diversity have been homogenized by theory.
The accelerating pace of agency attribution, moreover, has led many into the mistaken belief that agency itself is a creation of modernity. Hegel had attributed agency to progressive males all the way back to the origins of the state. This was the whole point of his formulation: Hegel, in other words, never escaped the instincts of sacred history; he just knocked the agent in chief down a peg.
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But here is the rub: To evade this paradox, one could deny Hegel's bias and extend agency to all past actors. But what if this gesture is practically impossible? What can one do if the vast majority of premodern historical sources were generated by the very men whose thoughts and deeds they typically celebrate? Given this paradox-a paradox that historians generated for themselves by adopting for their discipline a textual methodology-it is enormously tempting to pretend that the remote past belongs to nature, to a cultural reality that cannot be fully historicized, and thereafter to ignore it.
As a result of this bind, the great questions that used to cut through the layer cake of time are not being asked. Instead, historians and cultural anthropologists turn their attention to the world around them, treating it as a secular creation even newer, empirically, than the sacred world of Genesis. In recent decades, the short chronology of disciplinary history has continued to shrink.
As measured by professorships, course offerings, dissertation topics, and publications, the weight of knowledge production in cultural anthropology and history is now solidly centered in the centuries after , as it is in the other human sciences. Use of this metaphorical complex has accelerated in the last two decades. If we could track the average birth date proposed in this burgeoning array of titles, it would in all likelihood be moving closer and closer to the present day. The prospects for a reunion of the short and long chronologies within the human sciences seem rather grim, and it would be simple enough to frame this volume as a nostalgic story of loss and what might have been.
Yet now, years after the time revolution, the elements and frames necessary for writing a deep history of humankind may finally be falling into place. The field of big history, led by David Christian and Fred Spier, has already shown how the wholeness of time can be woven into a compelling historical narrative. They fret about chronological constraints and issue calls for "evolutionary politics," "evolutionary economics," or evolutionary studies of the law.
The logic deployed is distinctly reminiscent of the logic of the orthodox, Augustinian version of Christian theology, which also proposes the existence of an abiding human psychological condition that has profound latter-day effects: Though the neo-Augustinian trajectory of evolutionary psychology evokes the past, it does not provide a history. Historical Theory is essential and enlightening reading for all historians and their students. Paperback , pages. Published July 25th by Routledge first published June 27th To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
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Philosophy of History (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. This is an excellent introduction to the complexities of historical theory. Fulbrook engages constructively with the postmodernist challenge and proffers some useful guidelines for the discipline. Aidan rated it liked it Jul 22, Ivan Marinov rated it it was ok Nov 04, Bernard rated it liked it Jul 22, Stephen Lavelle rated it it was amazing May 25, Isabella Satz rated it it was amazing Mar 27, Elina rated it really liked it Sep 07, Daryl rated it liked it Jul 25, Clare Crawford rated it really liked it Jan 31, Kayleigh Regan rated it really liked it Jan 13, Rob rated it liked it Dec 07, Kirsti rated it really liked it Nov 16, Andy rated it liked it Aug 27, Agnes Murr rated it really liked it Nov 30, AngelusNovus rated it really liked it Dec 31, Sander Boek rated it really liked it Aug 04, Rusty Rutherford rated it really liked it Jul 28, A long, largely German, tradition of thought looks at history as a total and comprehensible process of events, structures, and processes, for which the philosophy of history can serve as an interpretive tool.
This approach, speculative and meta-historical, aims to discern large, embracing patterns and directions in the unfolding of human history, persistent notwithstanding the erratic back-and-forth of particular historical developments. Modern philosophers raising this set of questions about the large direction and meaning of history include Vico, Herder, and Hegel. A somewhat different line of thought in the continental tradition that has been very relevant to the philosophy of history is the hermeneutic tradition of the human sciences.
Human beings make history; but what is the fundamental nature of the human being? Can the study of history shed light on this question? When we study different historical epochs, do we learn something about unchanging human beings—or do we learn about fundamental differences of motivation, reasoning, desire, and collectivity? Is humanity a historical product?
Giambattista Vico's New Science offered an interpretation of history that turned on the idea of a universal human nature and a universal history see Berlin for commentary. Vico's interpretation of the history of civilization offers the view that there is an underlying uniformity in human nature across historical settings that permits explanation of historical actions and processes. The common features of human nature give rise to a fixed series of stages of development of civil society, law, commerce, and government: Two things are worth noting about this perspective on history: Johann Gottfried Herder offers a strikingly different view about human nature and human ideas and motivations.
Herder argues for the historical contextuality of human nature in his work, Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity He offers a historicized understanding of human nature, advocating the idea that human nature is itself a historical product and that human beings act differently in different periods of historical development —, Herder's views set the stage for the historicist philosophy of human nature later found in such nineteenth century figures as Hegel and Nietzsche.
Philosophers have raised questions about the meaning and structure of the totality of human history. Some philosophers have sought to discover a large organizing theme, meaning, or direction in human history. This may take the form of an effort to demonstrate how history enacts a divine order, or reveals a large pattern cyclical, teleological, progressive , or plays out an important theme for example, Hegel's conception of history as the unfolding of human freedom discussed below.
The ambition in each case is to demonstrate that the apparent contingency and arbitrariness of historical events can be related to a more fundamental underlying purpose or order. This approach to history may be described as hermeneutic; but it is focused on interpretation of large historical features rather than the interpretation of individual meanings and actions.
In effect, it treats the sweep of history as a complicated, tangled text, in which the interpreter assigns meanings to some elements of the story in order to fit these elements into the larger themes and motifs of the story. Ranke makes this point explicitly A recurring current in this approach to the philosophy of history falls in the area of theodicy or eschatology: Theologians and religious thinkers have attempted to find meaning in historical events as expressions of divine will.
One reason for theological interest in this question is the problem of evil; thus Leibniz's Theodicy attempts to provide a logical interpretation of history that makes the tragedies of history compatible with a benevolent God's will In the twentieth century, theologians such as Maritain , Rust , and Dawson offered systematic efforts to provide Christian interpretations of history.
Enlightenment thinkers rejected the religious interpretation of history but brought in their own teleology, the idea of progress—the idea that humanity is moving in the direction of better and more perfect civilization, and that this progression can be witnessed through study of the history of civilization Condorcet ; Montesquieu Vico's philosophy of history seeks to identify a foundational series of stages of human civilization. Different civilizations go through the same stages, because human nature is constant across history Pompa Rousseau a; b and Kant —5; —6 brought some of these assumptions about rationality and progress into their political philosophies, and Adam Smith embodies some of this optimism about the progressive effects of rationality in his account of the unfolding of the modern European economic system This effort to derive a fixed series of stages as a tool of interpretation of the history of civilization is repeated throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it finds expression in Hegel's philosophy discussed below , as well as Marx's materialist theory of the development of economic modes of production Marx and Engels —49; Marx and Engels Spengler , Toynbee , Wittfogel , and Lattimore These authors offered a reading of world history in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations, races, or cultures.
Their writings were not primarily inspired by philosophical or theological theories, but they were also not works of primary historical scholarship. Spengler and Toynbee portrayed human history as a coherent process in which civilizations pass through specific stages of youth, maturity, and senescence. Wittfogel and Lattimore interpreted Asian civilizations in terms of large determining factors.
Lattimore applies the key of geographic and ecological determinism to the development of Asian civilization Rowe A legitimate criticism of many efforts to offer an interpretation of the sweep of history is the view that it looks for meaning where none can exist. Interpretation of individual actions and life histories is intelligible, because we can ground our attributions of meaning in a theory of the individual person as possessing and creating meanings.
But there is no super-agent lying behind historical events—for example, the French Revolution—and so it is a category mistake to attempt to find the meaning of the features of the event e. The theological approach purports to evade this criticism by attributing agency to God as the author of history, but the assumption that there is a divine author of history takes the making of history out of the hands of humanity.
Efforts to discern large stages in history such as those of Vico, Spengler, or Toynbee are vulnerable to a different criticism based on their mono-causal interpretations of the full complexity of human history. These authors single out one factor that is thought to drive history: But their hypotheses need to be evaluated on the basis of concrete historical evidence. And the evidence concerning the large features of historical change over the past three millennia offers little support for the idea of one fixed process of civilizational development.
Instead, human history, at virtually every scale, appears to embody a large degree of contingency and multiple pathways of development. For example, Michael Mann's sociology of early agrarian civilizations , De Vries and Goudsblom's efforts at global environmental history , and Jared Diamond's treatment of disease and warfare offer examples of scholars who attempt to explain some large features of human history on the basis of a few common human circumstances: The challenge for macro-history is to preserve the discipline of empirical evaluation for the large hypotheses that are put forward.
Hegel's philosophy of history is perhaps the most fully developed philosophical theory of history that attempts to discover meaning or direction in history a, b, Hegel regards history as an intelligible process moving towards a specific condition—the realization of human freedom. Hegel incorporates a deeper historicism into his philosophical theories than his predecessors or successors. And he views it to be a central task for philosophy to comprehend its place in the unfolding of history. Hegel constructs world history into a narrative of stages of human freedom, from the public freedom of the polis and the citizenship of the Roman Republic, to the individual freedom of the Protestant Reformation, to the civic freedom of the modern state.
He attempts to incorporate the civilizations of India and China into his understanding of world history, though he regards those civilizations as static and therefore pre-historical O'Brien For example, Napoleon's conquest of much of Europe is portrayed as a world-historical event doing history's work by establishing the terms of the rational bureaucratic state. Hegel finds reason in history; but it is a latent reason, and one that can only be comprehended when the fullness of history's work is finished: It is worth observing that Hegel's philosophy of history is not the indefensible exercise of speculative philosophical reasoning that analytic philosophers sometimes paint it.
His philosophical approach is not based solely on foundational apriori reasoning, and many of his interpretations of concrete historical developments are quite insightful. His prescription is that the philosopher should seek to discover the rational within the real—not to impose the rational upon the real. His approach is neither purely philosophical nor purely empirical; instead, he undertakes to discover within the best historical knowledge of his time, an underlying rational principle that can be philosophically articulated Avineri Another important strand of continental philosophy of history proposes to apply hermeneutics to problems of historical interpretation.
This approach focuses on the meaning of the actions and intentions of historical individuals rather than historical wholes. This tradition derives from the tradition of scholarly Biblical interpretation. Hermeneutic scholars emphasized the linguistic and symbolic core of human interactions and maintained that the techniques that had been developed for the purpose of interpreting texts could also be employed to interpret symbolic human actions and products. Wilhelm Dilthey maintained that the human sciences were inherently distinct from the natural sciences in that the former depend on the understanding of meaningful human actions, while the latter depend on causal explanation of non-intensional events , , Human life is structured and carried out through meaningful action and symbolic expressions.
Dilthey maintains that the intellectual tools of hermeneutics—the interpretation of meaningful texts—are suited to the interpretation of human action and history. The method of verstehen understanding makes a methodology of this approach; it invites the thinker to engage in an active construction of the meanings and intentions of the actors from their point of view Outhwaite This line of interpretation of human history found expression in the twentieth-century philosophical writings of Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Foucault.
This tradition approaches the philosophy of history from the perspective of meaning and language. It argues that historical knowledge depends upon interpretation of meaningful human actions and practices. Historians should probe historical events and actions in order to discover the interconnections of meaning and symbolic interaction that human actions have created Sherratt The hermeneutic tradition took an important new turn in the mid-twentieth century, as philosophers attempted to make sense of modern historical developments including war, ethnic and national hatred, and holocaust.
Narratives of progress were no longer compelling, following the terrible events of the first half of the twentieth century. Paul Ricoeur draws out the parallels between personal memory, cultural memory, and history Dominick LaCapra brings the tools of interpretation theory and critical theory to bear on his treatment of the representation of the trauma of the Holocaust , This is a theme that has been taken up by contemporary historians, for example, by Michael Kammen in his treatment of public remembrance of the American Civil War Memory and the representation of the past play a key role in the formation of racial and national identities; numerous twentieth-century philosophers have noted the degree of subjectivity and construction that are inherent in the national memories represented in a group's telling of its history.
Although not himself falling within the continental lineage, R. Collingwood's philosophy of history falls within the general framework of hermeneutic philosophy of history Collingwood focuses on the question of how to specify the content of history. He argues that history is constituted by human actions.
He presents the idea of re-enactment as a solution to the problem of knowledge of the past from the point of view of the present. The past is accessible to historians in the present, because it is open to them to re-enact important historical moments through imaginative reconstruction of the actors' states of mind and intentions. He describes this activity of re-enactment in the context of the historical problem of understanding Plato's meanings as a philosopher or Caesar's intentions as a ruler:.
The post-war German historian Reinhart Koselleck made important contributions to the philosophy of history that are largely independent from the other sources of Continental philosophy of history mentioned here. His major compendium, with Brunner and Conze, of the history of concepts of history in the German-speaking world is one of the major expressions of this work Brunner, Conze, and Koselleck Koselleck believes there are three key tasks for the metahistorian or philosopher: Koselleck represents these conceptual oppositions as representing conditions of possibility of any representation of history Bouton In order to represent history it is necessary to make use of a vocabulary that distinguishes the things we need to talk about; and historical concepts permit these identifications.
This in turn requires both conceptual and historical treatment: Further, Bouton argues that Koselleck also brings a critical perspective to the concepts that he discusses: To what extent do these particular concepts work well to characterize history? What this amounts to is the idea that history is the result of conceptualization of the past on the part of the people who tell it—professional historians, politicians, partisans, and ordinary citizens.
It is therefore an important, even crucial, task to investigate the historical concepts that have been used to characterize the past. This approach might seem to fall within the larger field of intellectual history; but Koselleck and other exponents believe that the historical concepts in use actually play a role as well in the concrete historical developments that occur within a period.
Koselleck is concerned to uncover the logic and semantics of the concepts that have been used to describe historical events and processes; and he is interested in the historical evolution of some of those concepts over time. In this latter interest his definition of the question parallels that of the so-called Cambridge School of Quentin Skinner, John Dunn, and J.
Whatmore and Young provide extensive and useful accounts of each of the positions mentioned here. Rather, he looks at historical concepts on a spectrum of abstraction, from relatively close to events the French Revolution to more abstract revolutionary change. Moreover, he makes rigorous attempts to discover the meanings and uses of these concepts in their historical contexts. It has to do with meanings in history, but it is neither teleological nor hermeneutic. It takes seriously the obligation of the historian excavate the historical facts with scrupulous rigor, but it is not empiricist or reductionist.
Koselleck provides an innovative and constructive way of formulating the problem of historical knowledge. The traditions of empiricism and Anglo-American philosophy have also devoted occasional attention to history. Philosophers in this tradition have avoided the questions of speculative philosophy of history and have instead raised questions about the logic and epistemology of historical knowledge. David Hume's empiricism cast a dominant key for almost all subsequent Anglo-American philosophy, and this influence extends to the interpretation of human behavior and the human sciences.
Hume wrote a widely read history of England — His interpretation of history was based on the assumption of ordinary actions, motives, and causes, with no sympathy for theological interpretations of the past. His philosophical view of history was premised on the idea that explanations of the past can be based on the assumption of a fixed human nature. This approach involves the application of the methods and tools of analytic philosophy to the special problems that arise in the pursuit of historical explanations and historical knowledge Gardiner Here the interest is in the characteristics of historical knowledge: Analytic philosophers emphasized the empirical and scientific status of historical knowledge, and attempted to understand this claim along the lines of the scientific standing of the natural sciences Nagel Philosophers in the analytic tradition are deeply skeptical about the power of non-empirical reason to arrive at substantive conclusions about the structure of the world—including human history.
So analytic philosophers of history have had little interest in the large questions about the meaning and structure of history considered above. The practitioners of speculative philosophy of history, on the other hand, are convinced of the power of philosophical thought to reason through to a foundational understanding of history, and would be impatient with a call for a purely empirical and conceptual approach to the subject. The book attempts to treat both major questions driving much of the philosophy of history: An Oxford philosopher trained in modern philosophy, Walsh was strongly influenced by Collingwood and was well aware of the European idealist tradition of philosophical thinking about history, including Rickert, Dilthey, and Croce, and he treats this tradition in a serious way.
He advances the view that the historian is presented with a number of events, actions, and developments during a period. How do they hang together? Walsh fundamentally accepts Collingwood's most basic premise: So the key intellectual task for the historian, on this approach, is to reconstruct the reasons or motives that actors had at various points in history and perhaps the conditions that led them to have these reasons and motives.
This means that the tools of interpretation of meanings and reasons are crucial for the historian—much as the hermeneutic philosophers in the German tradition had argued. Walsh suggests that the philosophical content of the philosophy of history falls naturally into two different sorts of inquiry, parallel to the distinction between philosophy of nature and philosophy of science.
The first has to do with metaphysical questions about the reality of history as a whole; the latter has to do with the epistemic issues that arise in the pursuit and formulation of knowledge of history. And he attempts to formulate a view of what the key questions are for each approach. Speculative philosophy of history asks about the meaning and purpose of the historical process. Hempel's general theory of scientific explanation held that all scientific explanations require subsumption under general laws. Hempel considered historical explanation as an apparent exception to the covering-law model and attempted to show the suitability of the covering-law model even to this special case.
He argued that valid historical explanations too must invoke general laws. The covering-law approach to historical explanation was supported by other analytical philosophers of science, including Ernest Nagel Hempel's essay provoked a prolonged controversy between supporters who cited generalizations about human behavior as the relevant general laws, and critics who argued that historical explanations are more akin to explanations of individual behavior, based on interpretation that makes the outcome comprehensible. Donagan and others pointed out the difficulty that many social explanations depend on probabilistic regularities rather than universal laws.
The most fundamental objections, however, are these: These include the processes of reasoning through which we understand individual actions—analogous to the methods of verstehen and the interpretation of rational behavior mentioned above Dray A careful re-reading of these debates over the covering-law model in history suggests that the debate took place largely because of the erroneous assumption of the unity of science and the postulation of the regulative logical similarity of all areas of scientific reasoning to a few clear examples of explanation in a few natural sciences.
This approach was a deeply impoverished one, and handicapped from the start in its ability to pose genuinely important questions about the nature of history and historical knowledge. Explanation of human actions and outcomes should not be understood along the lines of an explanation of why radiators burst when the temperature falls below zero degrees centigrade.
The insistence on naturalistic models for social and historical research leads easily to a presumption in favor of the covering-law model of explanation, but this presumption is misleading. Or are forms of bias, omission, selection, and interpretation such as to make all historical representations dependent on the perspective of the individual historian?
Does the fact that human actions are value-laden make it impossible for the historian to provide a non-value-laden account of those actions? This topic divides into several different problems, as noted by John Passmore The most studied of these within the analytic tradition is that of the value-ladenness of social action. Second is the possibility that the historian's interpretations are themselves value-laden—raising the question of the capacity for objectivity or neutrality of the historian herself. Does the intellectual have the ability to investigate the world without regard to the biases that are built into her political or ethical beliefs, her ideology, or her commitments to a class or a social group?
And third is the question of the objectivity of the historical circumstances themselves. Is there a fixed historical reality, independent from later representations of the facts? There are solutions to each of these problems that are highly consonant with the philosophical assumptions of the analytic tradition. There is no fundamental difficulty in reconciling the idea of a researcher with one set of religious values, who nonetheless carefully traces out the religious values of a historical actor possessing radically different values.
This research can be done badly, of course; but there is no inherent epistemic barrier that makes it impossible for the researcher to examine the body of statements, behaviors, and contemporary cultural institutions corresponding to the other, and to come to a justified representation of the other. One need not share the values or worldview of a sans-culotte , in order to arrive at a justified appraisal of those values and worldview. This leads us to a resolution of the second issue as well—the possibility of neutrality on the part of the researcher.
The set of epistemic values that we impart to scientists and historians include the value of intellectual discipline and a willingness to subject their hypotheses to the test of uncomfortable facts. Once again, review of the history of science and historical writing makes it apparent that this intellectual value has effect. There are plentiful examples of scientists and historians whose conclusions are guided by their interrogation of the evidence rather than their ideological presuppositions.
Objectivity in pursuit of truth is itself a value, and one that can be followed. Finally, on the question of the objectivity of the past: Is there a basis for saying that events or circumstances in the past have objective, fixed characteristics that are independent from our representation of those events? Is there a representation-independent reality underlying the large historical structures to which historians commonly refer the Roman Empire, the Great Wall of China, the imperial administration of the Qianlong Emperor?
We can work our way carefully through this issue, by recognizing a distinction between the objectivity of past events, actions and circumstances, the objectivity of the contemporary facts that resulted from these past events, and the objectivity and fixity of large historical entities. The past occurred in precisely the way that it did—agents acted, droughts occurred, armies were defeated, new technologies were invented. These occurrences left traces of varying degrees of information richness; and these traces give us a rational basis for arriving at beliefs about the occurrences of the past.
In each of these instances the noun's referent is an interpretive construction by historical actors and historians, and one that may be undone by future historians. The underlying facts of behavior, and their historical traces, remain; but the knitting-together of these facts into a large historical event does not constitute an objective historical entity. A third important set of issues that received attention from analytic philosophers concerned the role of causal ascriptions in historical explanations.
Is causation established by discovering a set of necessary and sufficient conditions? Can we identify causal connections among historical events by tracing a series of causal mechanisms linking one to the next? This topic raises the related problem of determinism in history: Was the fall of the Roman Empire inevitable, given the configuration of military and material circumstances prior to the crucial events? Analytic philosophers of history most commonly approached these issues on the basis of a theory of causation drawn from positivist philosophy of science.
This theory is ultimately grounded in Humean assumptions about causation: So analytic philosophers were drawn to the covering-law model of explanation, because it appeared to provide a basis for asserting historical causation. As noted above, this approach to causal explanation is fatally flawed in the social sciences, because universal causal regularities among social phenomena are unavailable. So it is necessary either to arrive at other interpretations of causality or to abandon the language of causality. And it is evident that there are causal circumstances in which no single factor is necessary for the occurrence of the effect; the outcome may be overdetermined by multiple independent factors.
The convergence of reasons and causes in historical processes is helpful in this context, because historical causes are frequently the effect of deliberate human action Davidson