Rewriting the past: Retrospective description and its consequences

This article seeks to answer the following questions: is Quentin Skinner right to claim that actions in the past should not be described by means of concepts not available at the time those actions occurred? And is Ian Hacking right to claim that such descriptions do not merely describe but actually change the past? The author begins by arguing that it is not clear precisely what Skinner is claiming and shows how, under the pressure of criticism, his methodological strictures collapse into trivialities. The author then argues that, although Hacking has given us no reason to accept his claim, we can make sense of it by appealing to the idea of a "Cambridge change." The author concludes by suggesting that as long as we are exercising the right kind of concepts, a suitably modified version of Hacking 's conclusion can be retained. Key Words: action • history • changes in the past • Quentin Skinner • Ian Hacking.
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DOI 10.1177/004839310203200101
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