The philosophy of historiography examines our representations and knowledge of the past, the relation between evidence, inference, explanation and narrative. Do we possess knowledge of the past? Do we just have probable beliefs about the past, or is historiography a piece of convincing fiction? The philosophy of history is the direct philosophical examination of history, whether it is necessary or contingent, whether it has a direction or whether it is coincidental, and if it has a direction, what it is, and how and why it is unfolding? The fifty entries in this companion cover the main issues in the philosophies of historiography and history, including natural history and the practices of historians. Written by an international and multi–disciplinary group of experts, these clearly written entries present a cutting–edge updated picture of current research in the philosophies of historiography and history. This companion will be of interest to philosophers, historians, natural historians, and social scientists.
Aviezer Tucker is a Gvirtzman Memorial Foundation Fellow and teaches at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. He held research positions at the Australian National University, New York University, Columbia University and the Central European University in Prague. He is the author of Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (2004) and a past president of the Society for the Philosophy of History.
©2013 Aviezer Tucker (P)2013 Audible Ltd
"Since the writing of history is part of the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences, the philosophical questions pertaining thereto have often been isolated from each other. Not so here. This volume is full of riches." (Elliott Sober , University of Wisconsin)
"Anyone interested in thinking about history, from the great systems to analysing how historians support their truth claims, will find these expert essays a splendid introduction." (Richard Vann , Senior Editor, History and Theory)
Philosophy of science or, more broadly, intellectual philosophy, is endlessly entertaining. Generally, it's about having very bright people attempting to respond to fundamental questions about our knowledge of the world. What does "knowledge of the world" really mean? What is scientific knowledge? How does it relate to theory or to observation? What is a theory and how do we decide which theories are better? True, none of these questions matter a great deal individually. Still, good intellectual philosophy is vigorous mental exercise, and does tend to give the reader a fresh perspective on things that do matter.
So it was with much optimism and cheerful anticipation that I began to read this selection of essays on the philosophy of history. I did not finish it. Unfortunately, it seems that either (a) philosophy of history is radically different from philosophy of science, or (b) the editor was singularly inept.
Two features in particular were discouraging. First, whacking away for hours at a cartoon stereotype of a kind of historiography allegedly practiced about a century ago isn't philosophy. Nobody writes that kind of history any more. In fact, I suspect that no one ever really did. It's a straw man with a painted bag for a head -- not even an appropriate subject for ad hominem arguments. It's trivial and uninteresting to watch an author deconstruct her own construct.
Second, the authors ignore an enormous body of practical and academic study of the critical issues. One really valuable point made (but then ignored) by several of the authors is that the critical issues in philosophy of history are precisely same as those encountered in law: the nature of causation, the reliability of mixed sources of evidence about the past, the requirements for rules of evidence, the accommodation of differing perceptions, the appropriate procedures and substantive burdens of evidence to apply, the proper melding of normative standards with "objective" fact. Frankly, to any thoughtful lawyer, the essays in this collection seem remarkably naive and kind of -- well -- primitive.
But, God forbid that these particular philosophers of history, at any rate, should pay any heed to anything as distastefully practical as law or, for that matter, history. This seems odd since, as a rule, philosophers of science do listen to scientists, even if their aims and methods are different. Perhaps this is because even the Paul Feyerebends of POS have faith in the scientific enterprise. The authors of this book lack an equivalent faith in the enterprise of history. They mostly seem interested in listening to themselves. This is just as well, since it's hard to see why anyone else would want to.
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