|Edited by Jerzy Topolski
Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1994
The main claim of the work is that the concept of truth is indispensable in historiography, with the proviso that one cannot speak about truth or falsehood of a single sentence because it cannot be extracted from a given narrative without the destruction of the latter. One may accordingly either completely discard realism with respect to historical narratives (not only with respect to narrative wholes such as, for instance, “the Renaissance” or “the French Revolution”), or else accept some of its non-naive versions (for instance that advanced by H. Putnam). It is further claimed that from such a point of view both narrative wholes which we encounter in historical narratives and similar concepts found in natural science (e.g., that of molecular cloud) have the same cognitive status. Truth in historiography is always involved in the context of a given historian’s beliefs, and the narrative itself is an intricate structure in which one can single out three layers (aspects): the informative, the persuasive (rhetorical), and the ideological (controlling). This implies the necessity of accepting the existence of many truths in historical narratives, the value of which is determined by empirical practice.
It is argued that postmodernism in historical theory can best be seen as a radicalization of the nineteenth century historicism. Nevertheless, this radicalization requires us to abandon the transcendentalist and objectivist assumptions that had remained unquestioned within the historical tradition. What is philosophically most interesting in the practice of history (as is correctly recognized in postmodernist historical theory), is its implicit critique of transcendentalism and of the metaphors suggested by transcendentalism in its effort to offer a foundation of (historical) knowledge. The consequences of an anti-transcendentalist position for both historical writing itself and the history of historical writing are investigated.
This paper concerns the relation between historical narrative and the historical reality it is about. It carries forward a debate on the nature and role of narrative in history to which I contributed in some earlier writings. There I attacked, among others, Louis Mink, Hayden White, and to some extent Paul Ricoeur, for claiming that narrative imposes an alien structure on human events, such that narrative will always produce a distorted picture of reality, for purely formal reasons. According to this skeptical view, the truth-telling pretensions of history, which distinguish it from fiction, are undercut. In the first part of the paper I recount briefly my objections to this view: it assumes a deep difference of kind between historical narrative, on one side, and historical reality on the other. I argue, on the contrary, that historical reality, consisting of people’s plans, actions and experiences, has an intrinsically narrative character from the start, and that historical narrative, far from imposing an alien structure, is a continuation by other means of the very reality it portrays. If I am right this argument undercuts the formal reasons advanced against the truth-telling capacity of history, but it does not go far enough. It does not account for how historical narrative differs from other forms of social narrative and how its truth-telling aspirations can be realized. The main body of the paper is devoted to this question. Suggesting that the entire debate has been cast too much in terms of a representational epistemology, I try to sketch a non-representational and non- foundational account of historical inquiry which respects its particularity and the unique features of the realities historians deal with. Without claiming to issue the formal guarantee of veracity or the general account of error sought by traditional epistemologies, I try to portray in concrete terms the truth-telling efforts of a historian in the context ofrealities historians deal with. Without claiming to issue the formal guarantee of veracity or the general account of error sought by traditional epistemologies, I try to portray in concrete terms the truth-telling efforts of a historian in the context of a traditional discipline.
The formula stating that “one culture studies another culture” adequately describes the epistemological situation of a historian. Like an ethnologist or an ethnographer, in the name of his own culture he penetrates a sometimes diametrally different social reality. In the course of his investigations the historian, like any carrier of a given culture (an artist or a researcher), ascribes to the culture he studies a logic, the concepts of time and space, and, above all, fundamental historiographical metaphors (dominant metaphors in the sense used by P. Ricoeur). These include the ideas of genesis, development, linear time, causal nexus, etc. The impossibility of avoiding such imputation is the specific principle of indeterminacy in culture. It is so because the researcher cannot abstract from the constitutive characteristics of his thinking; he does not face the reality he studies as if he were a tabula rasa. Hence, he can at most only control the scope of the mentioned imputation.
The historical writings on the concept of causality (Aristotle’s causa efficiens) are astonishingly primitive. In the definitions of our predecessors, there is no reference to a causal field, to non-realized possibilities nor to the equilibrium of a system, let alone values or ends. It is not so for the concept of finality (Aristotle’s causa finalis), where value-orientations and complex system-thinking have always dominated the scene, an emphasis which is paramount in functionalism, interpretative sociology, decision-making and policy research. This has cost these domains dearly. The many problems associated with final causation are outlined and it is argued that causality and finality are nearer each other than it is shown in the history of causal writings.
Soviet Marxist historiography was often treated as an ideology dominated and dogmatic pseudoscience deviating from the binding standards of rationality. The difference of procedures and results from those accepted in the West made its comprehension difficult and inclined people to treat it lightly. Yet treating that historiographical activity as scholarly increases our knowledge of science as such and of the external conditions of its functioning. One can apply to it the conception of paradigms, advanced by Thomas Kuhn. It helps us understand that Soviet historiography was a normal (also in the specific sense formulated by Kuhn) discipline pursued under abnormal conditions. The ontological assumptions resulting from the Soviet interpretation of Marxism predetermined the results of the research carried out by historians. But this research itself was conducted in accordance with the methodological rules binding all over the world.
It is demonstrated that the claims of the evolutionary schema to universality are groundless. That schema reflects the specific point of view developed in the sphere of West European culture. Treating it as a modern conception projected onto the past tantamounts to questioning the causal order as the order of history. It means the decomposition of the linear concept of time as a mild continuum: the past the present the future. The pictures of the reality studies appear then as functionally determined relational systems whose functioning is not determined by the preceding situation. The teleological nature of history turns out to be a Utopia.
The various ways of teaching and learning history to be found in practice are listed. It is postulated that the didactic of history should be dedicated to an analysis of the results of the clash of these methods at schools. It means that such an analysis should be situated at the meeting point of epistemology and psychology (cognitive and social). The problem consists in the identification of events by learners, on the one hand, and historians and epistemologists, on the other. The text of history is identified with the help of two large categories: change and stability but always conforming to the reception schemes. The teachers are hardly prepared to recognize this cognitive plurality. It is suggested that a distinction should be made between four models of didactic practice: the exemplarity of history to assure the function of education, the education by the training of behavioral and cognitive capacities, a classical (chronological) transmission of knowledge and the model in which the specificities of scholarly history and of taught history are clearly distinguished and its educational function is not particularly tied to the contents of teaching.
The paper attempts to arrange different ways of understanding the notion aesthetization present in the contemporary culture and to show the reasons for the career of this notion in the contemporary humanities. The author focuses on one of the distinguished senses of aesthetization on aesthetization of the professional cognitive practice and considers the case of this practice on the basis of a discussion on historiography from F.R. Ankersmit’s text “Narrative as Representation.” The author concludes that Ankersmit’s main thesis, that there is an analogy between art and historiography, and his postulate, that philosophy of history should listen to lessons taught by aesthetics, both “raise essential doubts.” This is so because Ankersmit based them on arbitrarily chosen aesthetic conceptions which do not form the basis for any generalizations. Therefore in the author’s view aesthetization justified in such away can hardly have resonance in the domain of history discussed here.