This book is intended for the highly intelligent reader, who is interested in considering the difficulties, problems, and challenges of understanding and writing about the human past. It is popularly enough written, hopefully, to be a joy to read, and scholarly enough to be seriously instructive. The book has two major purposes, first, to give a reader an extensive, detailed overview of the field as it currently exists, and, second, to considerably enlarge the field itself, as it is the first book in the area to consider not only the epistemology of the field, but, in detail, its logic and semantics, its metaphysics, its axiology and its aesthetics.
Prologue: There are these passengers on a ship, you see. It might be a ship, but perhaps not. If it is a ship, it is not clear it has a rudder. It may drift with currents, responsive to dynamics with which we are not familiar. Is the ship on some course, arranged on a captain's bridge, to which we have no access? Could we ourselves take the helm? We have some sense of where the ship has been, put together from fragments, abetted by shrewd guesswork. But we cannot, as yet, find the helm, and if this were managed, somehow, it is not clear what course we might chart, or if, given the sea, the winds, and such, we might inadvertently guide the ship into waters unforeseen and best avoided. Perhaps most interestingly, most of our fellow passengers are unaware of the existence of the ship, and live, and replicate, and die, in their cabins, unconcerned with the ship and its course, or whether it has a course. Perhaps they are the wisest of all. But that is not clear.
Part One: Preliminary Considerations I. Introduction
It is amazing that one of the most neglected domains of philosophical inquiry is that to which one would expect to find addressed constant and profound attention, namely, the multiplex histories of which we find ourselves the product.
It is not altogether obvious why this should be the case.
Consider, for example, the philosophy of science. That is, assuredly, an important and justifiably prestigious discipline within the philosophical enterprise; it is honored with considerable and well-deserved attention, and has profited, happily, from the labors of a number of unusually gifted philosophers. One begrudges her nothing, but her eminence does, given inevitable comparisons, surprise one. Why so much interest there? Or, perhaps better, why not similar interest elsewhere? Certainly science affects our lives and illuminates our understanding; it gives us aspirin and atomic weaponry, jet engines and drip-dry shirts, fountain pens, if anyone remembers such things, and computers, and life-saving surgery and poison gas. It improves immeasurably the quality of our lives and puts the means of universal extermination in the hands of sociopathic lunatics. Surely it deserves philosophical attention, and who has not wondered about stars and space, galaxies and quarks, such things. To try to philosophically grasp such an endeavor, to consider this remarkable path to knowledge, is an estimable inquiry. On the other hand, science has a bottom, so to speak, regardless of whether or not one gets there. It ends somewhere; it is finite. Somewhere the last fact lurks. Perhaps history has, too, so to speak, a bottom, but the complexities of understanding her are immeasurably deeper, and, perhaps, of greater importance. In history there may be no last fact. And, if there is, it is unlikely to be found. Atoms were presumably no more about in the time of Sargon of Akkad than they are today. But history's lessons of aggression and imperialism may weigh more heavily in speculations concerning human survival than valence bonds and molecules. Quarks were about when Buddha sat beneath a shade-giving tree and Jesus preached in Galilee. Quarks were doubtless much the same then as now, but history is different. Perhaps the prestige of science redounds to the prestige of the philosophy of science. Or perhaps the comparative simplicity of science encourages the moths of scholarship. It may be something one can get one's hands on. Perhaps it is a bit like the wonders and glories of mathematics, so attractive to fine minds searching for stability, beauty, and a refuge from a messier, more dangerous world. The number two, for example, is congenial. It can be relied on. It stands still, so to speak, and exceeds one and refuses to invade three. It is always there. You can count on it. In any event, whatever may be the causes here, whether psychologically explicable or a simple matter of a planet's biographical idiosyncrasies, we confront the anomaly that an area which is most telling, and the most undeniably momentous, seems remarkably, and perhaps unconscionably, comparatively neglected. There are, of course, philosophical intrusions into the human past, and its endemic problematicities, studies undertaken by vital and astute minds, but there are too few troves in this area, certainly proportionately, and those that exist are today commonly neglected. Ratios are involved, of course. My claim here is twofold, first, history, as a discipline, is enormously important, even cognitively fundamental, and, secondly, she is woefully undervalued and understood. It is the philosopher's job to remedy to some extent, subject to his limitations, this defect. This is not to compete with the historian, no more than the philosopher of science competes with the scientist. The point here is to try to understand history, and historiography. Thus the title of this book, the Philosophy of Historiography.
My general approach is as follows. Classically the five major branches of philosophy are logic and semantics; metaphysics; epistemology; axiology, and aesthetics. Accordingly, I would like to devote some attention to the logic and semantics, the metaphysics, the epistemology, the axiology, and the aesthetics of historiography. To be sure, given the constraints of time and space, the implementation of this program will be highly selective. We do hope, on the other hand, to do more than point some directions and open a few roads. In the end of course, this country, like the night, is "large and full of wonders." Certainly exploration is welcome and invited. Portions of this work are, as far as I know, quite original. On the other hand, many points are familiar from the literature, and I think it is important to deal with them. We are not out to invent the philosophy of historiography here, or to pretend to invent it, but to deal with it, hopefully in a way that the reader, whom the author supposes to be generally unfamiliar with the subject matter, may find interesting and informative.
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October 07, 2010
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