Judging from the contemporary debate in the philosophy of history, philosophers seem to think of history as an important but also as a very peculiar discipline. They cannot make up their minds on how exactly to describe the epistemic status of historical knowledge or how exactly to situate history among human activities ranging from the arts to the natural sciences.1 The difficulty of philosophically accounting for the character of history goes back to the very beginning of history as a professional (...) discipline within academia in the 19th century. In order to be given the title of a science history had to prove that its knowledge is as objective and rigorous as the knowledge gained by the natural sciences. Yet philosophers and historians recognized that its domain of human agency and human institutions was particularly ill suited to fit the model of methodological monism demanded by the ruling positivist conception of the natural sciences. They nevertheless suggested that history should still be regarded as a worthy member of the scientific community, because its own method of empathetic reenacting or "reliving" the experiences and thoughts of past agents allows it to acquire objective knowledge of the past. (shrink)
1. Introduction: Naturalism and Psychological Explanations To a large extent, contemporary philosophical debate takes place within a framework of naturalistic assumptions. From the perspective of the history of philosophy, naturalism is the legacy of positivism without its empiricist epistemology and empiricist conception of meaning and cognitive significance. Systematically, it is best to characterize naturalism as the philosophical articulation of the underlying presuppositions of a reductive scientific research program that was rather successful in the last few centuries and, equally important, promises (...) to be so in the future particularly in the biological sciences and the neurosciences. It seems as if the secrets of human life and behavior and the mysteries of the mind will be cracked on the molecular level of the genes or the brain, or at least so we are told. Viewed in this manner it is understandable why philosophical naturalism tends to be committed to monism, both as a metaphysical or ontological claim and as a methodological position in the philosophy of social science. Naturalists are inclined to adopt a physicalist ontology that rejects free floating Cartesian substances and they view higher order macroscopic facts and properties as being dependent or supervenient on basic micro-physical facts. Naturalists, furthermore, expect that any scientific explanation of higher order properties has to provide an account of why and how these lower order facts give rise to higher order ones. These ontological and epistemic commitments also underpin a position of methodological monism in regard to the social sciences and the explanation of human agency. If the above ontological picture is correct then there is no reason to expect that the structure of the sciences dealing with higher order properties on the social level should fundamentally differ in their methodology from the natural sciences. In both domains of investigation, scientists will develop and make explanatory use of comprehensive and empirically well supported theories with adequate predictive powers that describe.... (shrink)
Abstract This essay will argue systematically and from a historical perspective that there is something to be said for the traditional claim that the human and natural sciences are distinct epistemic practices. Yet, in light of recent developments in contemporary philosophy of science, one has to be rather careful in utilizing the distinction between understanding and explanation for this purpose. One can only recognize the epistemic distinctiveness of the human sciences by recognizing the epistemic centrality of reenactive empathy for our (...) understanding of rational agency, that is, by emphasizing the psychological component in the concept of understanding that nineteenth-century philosophers like Droysen, in contrast to twentieth-century hermeneutic philosophers, still acknowledged. In addition, the essay will show in detail that merely pointing to the fact that narratives have a cognitive function in the domain of the human sciences, as is common among philosophers of history, does not provide us with a sufficient demarcation criterion for distinguishing between the human and natural sciences. (shrink)
This article will defend the centrality of empathy and simulation for our understanding of individual agency within the conceptual framework of folk psychology. It will situate this defense in the context of recent developments in the theory of mind debate. Moreover, the article will critically discuss narrativist conceptions of social cognition that conceive of themselves as alternatives to both simulation and theory theory.
This paper describes the historical background to contemporary discussions of empathy and rationality. It looks at the philosophy of mind and its implications for action explanation and the philosophy of history. In the nineteenth century, the concept of empathy became prominent within philosophical aesthetics, from where it was extended to describe the way we grasp other minds. This idea of empathy as a way of understanding others echoed through later accounts of historical understanding as involving re-enactment, noticeably that of R. (...) G. Collingwood. For much of the late twentieth century, philosophers of history generally neglected questions about action explanation. In the philosophy of mind, however, Donald Davidson inspired widespread discussions of the role of folk psychology and rationality in mental causation and the explanation of actions, and some philosophers of history drew on his ideas to reconsider issues related to empathy. Today, philosophers inspired by the discovery of mirror neurons and the theory of mind debate between theory theorists and simulation theorists are again making the concept of empathy central to philosophical analyses of action explanation and to historical understanding. (shrink)
This essay develops a new account of the phenomenon of imaginative resistance. Imaginative resistance is best conceived of as a limited phenomenon. It occurs when we try to engage imaginatively with different moral worlds that are insufficiently articulated so that they do not allow us either to quarantine our imaginative engagement from our normal moral attitudes or to agree with the expressed moral judgment from the perspective of moral deliberation. Imaginative resistance thus reveals the central epistemic importance that empathy plays (...) for our understanding of rational agents in a context where we try to make sense of the moral appropriateness of their reasons for acting. Reflecting on the phenomenon of imaginative resistance allows us to recognize important features of the relationship between imaginative perspective taking and ordinary moral deliberation. (shrink)
Participants in the debate about the nature of folk psychology tend to share one fundamental assumption: that its primary purpose consists in the prediction and explanation of another person's behavior. The following essay will evaluate recent challenges to this assumption by philosophers such as Joshua Knobe who insist that folk psychology and its concepts are intimately linked to our ethical concerns. I will show how conceiving of folk psychology in an engaged manner enables one to account for the evidence cited (...) in favor of an ethical interpretation of folk psychology, without undermining the claim that it is primarily an explanatory practice. Nevertheless, I will suggest that the basic cognitive stance of folk psychology has ethical implications that have been insufficiently noted in the contemporary context. (shrink)
Despite its linguistic roots in ancient Greek, the concept of empathy is of recent intellectual heritage. Yet its history has been varied and colorful, a fact that is also mirrored in the multiplicity of definitions associated with the empathy concept in a number of different scientific and non-scientific discourses. In its philosophical heyday at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, empathy had been hailed as the primary means for gaining knowledge of other minds and as the method (...) uniquely suited for the human sciences, only to be almost entirely neglected philosophically for the rest of the century. Only recently have philosophers become again interested in empathy in light of the debate about our folk psychological mindreading capacities. In the second half of the last century, the task of addressing empathy was mainly left to psychologists who thematized it as a psychological phenomenon and process to be studied by the method of the empirical sciences. Particularly, it has been studied by social psychologists as a phenomenon assumed to be causally involved in creating prosocial attitudes and behavior. Nevertheless, within psychology it is at times difficult to find agreement of how exactly one should understand empathy; a fact of which psychologists themselves have become increasingly aware. The purpose of this entry is to clarify the concept of empathy by surveying its history in various philosophical and psychological discussions and by indicating why empathy was and should be regarded to be of such central importance in understanding human agency in ordinary contexts, in the human sciences and for the constitution of ourselves as social and moral agents. (shrink)
It has become something of a consensus among philosophers of history that historians, in contrast to natural scientists, explain in a narrative fashion. Unfortunately, philosophers of history have not said much about how it is that narratives have explanatory power. they do, however, maintain that a narrative’s explanatory power is sui generis and independent of our empathetic or reenactive capacities and of our knowledge of law-like generalizations. In this article I will show that this consensus is mistaken at least in (...) respect to explanatory strategies used to account for rational agency using the “folk-psychological” framework of intentions, beliefs, desires, and the like. philosophers distinguish insufficiently among different aspects and different types of information needed for a historian to persuasively account for an agent’s behavior in particular circumstances. If one keeps these aspects apart it will become apparent exactly how one should understand the epistemic contribution of empathy, generalizations, and narrative for the explanation of action. (shrink)
Anti-realists like Paul Roth conceive of historical narratives as having no genuine explanatory power, because historical events are not ready-made and reveal themselves only to the retrospective gaze of the historian. For that reason, the categories with the help of which historians identify historical events do not map onto categories of general theories of the world required for a genuine explanation of them. While I agree with Paul Roth that the significance of a historical event is revealed only retrospectively, I (...) argue that this does not imply that historical narratives do not provide genuine explanations. In this context, it is however important to distinguish between the description used by historians to identify the event as being part of the narrative and the description under which the occurrence of the very same event could be causally explained within the narrative. Both types of descriptions possess a certain degree of conceptual independence from each other. I argue that historical narratives incorporate both dimensions: what I also call the view from and with the view from below. Historical narratives do explain, even though they differ from scientific theories. (shrink)
I do not consider these objections to be able to dislodge my arguments for the epistemic centrality of empathy for understanding agency, since the empathy view is not in fact committed to an implausible Cartesian view of the mind. But I do ...
s argument for the claim that social relations have to be conceived of as primary and main ontological category for an adequate analysis of the social realm. The author shows that Kings arguments do not succeed in fully replacing the categories of agency and structure that are pervasive in contemporary social theory. At most, King succeeds in delineating a neglected area of social theory, something that should be taken into account in addition to structure and agency. Key Words: (...) social ontology rules agency structure hermeneutics. (shrink)
This article will discuss the difficulties of providing a plausible account of rule following in the social realm. It will show that the cognitive model of rule following is not suited for this task. Nevertheless, revealing the inadequacy of the cognitive model does not justify the wholesale dismissal of understanding human practices as rule-following practices, as social theorists like Bourdieu or Dreyfus have argued. Instead it will be shown that rule-following behavior is best understood as being based on a set (...) of complex dispositions. In this manner one is able to account for the causal explanatory role of the notion of a rule. Key Words: rules norms explanation Bourdieu Winch. (shrink)
In this paper I will discuss Kims powerful explanatory exclusion argument against the causal efficacy of mental properties. Baker and Burge misconstrue Kims challenge if they understand it as being based on a purely metaphysical understanding of causation that has no grounding in an epistemological analysis of our successful scientific practices. As I will show, the emphasis on explanatory practices can only be effective in answering Kim if it is understood as being part of the dual-explanandum strategy. Furthermore, a fundamental (...) problem of the contemporary debate about mental causation consists in the fact that all sides take very different examples to be paradigmatic for the relation between psychological and neurobiological explanations. Even if we should expect some alignment in the explanatory scope of neurobiology and psychology/folk-psychology, there is no reason to expect that all mental explanations are exempted by physical explanations, since they do not in general explain the same phenomena. (shrink)
In this article I will challenge a received orthodoxy in the philosophy of social science by showing that Collingwood was right in insisting that reenactment is epistemically central for historical explanations of individual agency. Situating Collingwood within the context of the debate between simulation theory and what has come to be called “theory theory” in contemporary philosophy of mind and psychology, I will develop two systematic arguments that attempt to show the essential importance of reenactment for our understanding of rational (...) agency. I will furthermore show that Gadamer’s influential critique of the reenactment model distinguishes insufficiently between the interpretation of certain types of texts and the explanation of individual actions. In providing an account of individual agency, we are committed to a realistic understanding of our ordinary scheme of actionexplanations and have thus to recognize the centrality of reenactment. Nevertheless, Collingwood’s emphasis on reenactment is certainly one-sided. I will demonstrate its limitations even for accounting for individual agency, and show how it has to be supplemented by various theoretical considerations, by analyzing the different explanatory strategies that Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen use to explain the behavior of the ordinary men in Reserve Battalion 101 during World War II. (shrink)
This article develops a constitutive account of self-knowledgethat is able to avoid certain shortcomings of the standard response to the perceived prima facieincompatibility between privileged self-knowledge and externalism. It argues that ifone conceives of linguistic action as voluntary behavior in a minimal sense, one cannot conceive ofbelief content to be externalistically constituted without simultaneously assuming that the agent hasknowledge of his beliefs. Accepting such a constitutive account of self-knowledge does not, however,preclude the conceptual possibility of being mistaken about ones mental (...) states. Rather, self-knowledgehas to be seen as only a general constraint or as the default assumption of interpreting somebodyas a rational and intentional agent. This is compatible with the diagnosis of a localized lack of self-transparency. (shrink)