History of European Ideas 42 (7):924-936 (2016)

SUMMARYHistorians of historiography have recently adopted the language of ‘epistemic virtues’ to refer to character traits believed to be conducive to good historical scholarship. While ‘epistemic virtues’ is a modern philosophical concept, virtues such as ‘objectivity’, ‘meticulousness’ and ‘carefulness’ historically also served as actors' categories. Especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, historians frequently used virtue language to describe what it took to be a ‘good’, ‘reliable’ or ‘professional’ scholar. Based on three European case studies—the German historian Georg Waitz, his French pupil Gabriel Monod and the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne —this article argues that such virtues cannot neatly be classified as ‘epistemic’ ones. For what is characteristic about virtue language in historical scholarship around 1900 is an overlap or entanglement of epistemic, moral and political connotations. The virtues embodied by, or attributed to, Waitz, Monod and Pirenne were almost invariably aimed at epistemic, moral and political goods at once, though not always to the same degrees. Consequently, if ‘epistemic virtues’ is going to be a helpful category, it must not be interpreted in a strong sense, but in a weak one.
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2016.1161536
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