The Significance of the Past

Journal of the American Philosophical Association 7 (4):582-600 (2021)
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Abstract

The past is deeply important to many of us. But our concern about history can seem puzzling and needs justification. After all, the past cannot be changed: we can help the living needy, but the tears we shed for the long dead victims of past tragedies help no one. Attempts to justify our concern about history typically take one of two opposing forms. It is assumed either that such concern must be justified in instrumental or otherwise self-centered and present-centered terms or that our interest in history must be utterly disinterested and pursued for its own sake. But neither approach can fully explain, or justify, our concern about the past. I propose a third approach, on which the past matters because it contains much that is of value—all those past people and the things they did or had endured—and this value calls for our fitting response. In short: the significance of the past is past significance.

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Guy Kahane
University of Oxford

Citations of this work

Was evolution worth it?Guy Kahane - 2022 - Philosophical Studies 180 (1):249-271.
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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The ethics of memory.Avishai Margalit - 2002 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Superseding historic injustice.Jeremy Waldron - 1992 - Ethics 103 (1):4-28.
Virtue, Vice and Value.Thomas Hurka - 2001 - Philosophical Quarterly 52 (208):413-415.

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