The Nonfixity of the Historical Past

Review of Metaphysics 50 (4):749 - 768 (1997)

Authors
David Weberman
Central European University
Abstract
In a book that first appeared in 1965 entitled Analytical Philosophy of History, Arthur Danto argues that historical inquiry cannot be conceived as an attempt to reconstruct the past along the lines of an "ideal chronicler." The ideal chronicler "knows whatever happens the moment it happens, even in other minds. He is also to have the gift of instantaneous transcription: everything that happens across the whole forward rim of the Past is set down by him, as it happens the way it happens." Historians cannot aspire to this ideal because they inevitably use what Danto calls "narrative sentences," that is, sentences that describe one event by referring to one or more later events. For example, "The Thirty Years War began in 1618" is a sentence typical of historical inquiry but unavailable to the chronicler because it goes beyond what could have been known at the time it occurred, that is, that the war was to last thirty years. Danto reasons that because of the indispensability of narrative sentences to historical understanding, we can never give a complete description of past events since this presupposes knowledge of all relevant later events. The consequence is that our descriptions of past events will inevitably change as history unfolds. This discovery is remarkable and incontrovertible: descriptions of past historical events will and must always be reconceived not just because of the unearthing of new documents or the changing interests of the historian but because of the peculiar narrative structure of historical understanding.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s) 0034-6632  
DOI revmetaph199750444
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 44,474
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

In Search of the Missing Subject: Narrative Identity and Posthumous Wronging.Malin Masterton, Mats G. Hansson & Anna T. Höglund - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (4):340-346.
Mink’s Riddle of Narrative Truth.Chiel van den Akker - 2013 - Journal of the Philosophy of History 7 (3):346-370.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Evidence and Events in History.Leon J. Goldstein - 1962 - Philosophy of Science 29 (2):175-194.
Sublime Historical Experience.F. R. Ankersmit - 2005 - Stanford University Press.
The Past and the Historical Past.Bruce Waters - 1955 - Journal of Philosophy 52 (10):253-269.
Historical Rights and Fair Shares.A. John Simmons - 1995 - Law and Philosophy 14 (2):149 - 184.
Testing Times: Confirmation in the Historical Sciences.Ben Jeffares - 2008 - Dissertation, Australian National University
Historical Science, Over- and Underdetermined: A Study of Darwin's Inference of Origins.A. Tucker - 2011 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (4):805-829.
Hayden White.David M. Hammond - 1994 - Philosophy and Theology 8 (4):291-307.
History, Before and Beyond the Limit.Phillip Honenberger - 2010 - Journal of the Philosophy of History 4 (3-4):274-295.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2011-05-29

Total views
39 ( #220,868 of 2,273,285 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #825,404 of 2,273,285 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature