The Truth of History questions how modern historians, confined by the concepts of their own cultures, can still discover truths about the past. Through an examination of the constraints of history, accounts of causation and causal interpretations, C. Behan McCullagh argues that although historical descriptions do not mirror the past, they can correlate with it in a regular and definable way. Far from debating only in the abstract and philosophical, the author constructs his argument in numerous concrete historical examples and (...) explores a new position between believing that history perfectly represents the past and that history can tell us nothing true of the past. (shrink)
This book reveals the rational basis for historians' descriptions, interpretations and explanations of past events. C. Behan McCullagh defends the practice of history as more reliable than has recently been acknowledged. Historians, he argues, make their accounts of the past as fair as they can and avoid misleading their readers. He explains and discusses postmodern criticisms of history, providing students and teachers of history with a renewed validation of their practice. McCullagh takes the history debate to a new stage with (...) bold replies to the major questions historians face today. (shrink)
Debates between historians show that they expect descriptions of past people and events, and interpretations of historical subjects, and genetic explanations of historical changes, to be fair and not misleading. Sometimes unfair accounts of the past are the result of historians' bias, of their preferring one account over others because it accords with their interests. It is useful to distinguish history which is misleading by accident from that which is the result of personal bias; and to distinguish personal bias from (...) cultural bias and general cultural relativity.This paper explains what fair descriptions, interpretations, and explanations are like in order to clarify the senses in which they can be biased. It then explains why bias is deplorable, and after noting those who regard it as more or less inevitable, considers how personal bias can be avoided. It argues that it is not detachment that is needed, but commitment to standards of rational inquiry.Some might think that rational standards of inquiry will not be enough to avoid bias if the evidence available to the historian is itself biased. In fact historians often allow for bias in evidence, and even explain it when reconstructing what happened in the past.The paper concludes by noting that although personal bias can be largely avoided, cultural bias is not so easy to detect or correct. (shrink)
One cannot prove the truth of theological statement, but perhaps one can justify believing them because of the good consequences of doing so. It is irrational to believe statements of which there are good reasons to think false, but those of which there is some, albeit inconclusive, evidence can be believed for pragmatic reasons. However, in the interest of simplicity, it must not be possible to achieve those good consequences without such faith. John Bishop and others have argued that one (...) need only assume theological statements to be true to enjoy the good consequences of a religious life, but in fact, faith is needed for most of these consequences to be achieved. (shrink)
Hayden White suggested that narratives achieve coherence through literary types of emplotment. Generally, this is not the case. I contrast simple narratives, whose coherence lies in their subject and chronological structure; reflective narratives, which give an account of a trend; and genetic narratives, designed to explain and outcome. Some narratives do more than one of these things. Each kind of narrative is constrained by its function, but this constraint seldom if ever ensures its complete objectivity.
Some philosophers have argued that relativism is not defensible because the doctrine itself is not intelligible. In a recent book and two papers Hilary Putnam has repeatedly denied the intelligibility of relativism. He has offered a range of arguments, or hints of arguments, which will be answered, one by one, in this paper. Putnam has been particularly opposed to the relativist’s “criterial” or culture-relative conception of rationality, proposing a “non-criterial conception” instead; but his own formulation of the non-criterial conception and (...) his arguments in its defence will be seen to be inadequate. (shrink)
In order to characterize actions, It is not necessary to describe the characteristic way in which they are caused by an agent's wants and beliefs, As a I goldman and d davidson have supposed. It is enough to note the absence of alternative causes. Nor are all our actions intentional, As both davidson and, In a more limiting way, A c danto, Have suggested. These are the theses argued in this paper.
Those who think that general historical interpretations do no more than express a personal point of view deny that arguments over their credibility can have any point. They commonly believe that historians decide upon particular facts about the past in the context of a general interpretation of those facts. Consequently they deny that there is any independent basis for judging the credibility of general interpretations of the past, and conclude that each coherent account is as good as every other. Similarly, (...) those who think causal explanations are arbitrary can make no sense of arguments about their adequacy. They assume that historians simply pick out causes that interest them, and that there is no objective basis for judging the adequacy of the explanations they provide. This essay defends the credibility of interpretations against the skeptics, and the adequacy of causal explanations too. It shows that historians do discover a mass of particular facts independently of the general interpretations they finally provide, facts that provide a basis for assessing the credibility and fairness of those interpretations. It will also show that there is an objective basis for judging the adequacy of causal explanations, as some causes of an event are far more influential in bringing it about than others. A much more difficult problem concerns the need for historical interpretations to provide not just a credible account of the past, but also one that is fair, balanced, not misleading. Historians frequently argue about the fairness of general interpretations. Does this mean that fairness is always required? Quite often historians produce partial interpretations, in both senses, with no apology. It would be wrong to call such interpretations “biased” because they do not pretend to be comprehensive. So long as they are credible, they are acceptable. On the other hand, many interpretations are intended to present a fair, comprehensive account of their subject. When judging the adequacy of interpretations, it is necessary to know whether they are meant to be fair or not. (shrink)
Recent studies of historical synthesis have denied the possibility of "truth" in historical narratives, which they state impose meaning on a series of events. An historian is, however, capable of writing a true history, true in the sense that his or her narrative provides a fair representation of its central subject. Descriptions represent the world when they give us an idea that resembles part of the world itself. A subject can be said to be fairly represented if an author follows (...) certain procedures: events must be presented chronologically; the main changes that occurred in the subject must be described; there must not be descriptions or omissions which might give a misleading impression of the subject; and the subject should be explained at a consistent level of generality and with a consistent level of detail. An historian motivated by preconceptions rather than the desire to represent a subject fairly, will not write a true history. Preconceptions are not incompatible with writing true histories, however, as long as they are discarded when an historian learns that they are incompatible with a fair representation. Analysis can be supplementary to, but is never a substitute for, accurate historical representation of a subject. (shrink)
Those who doubt the objectivity of historical interpretations of the meaning of texts either ignore the quite stringent conventional criteria by which such interpretations are justified, as Jacques Derrida did, or they overlook the cognitive significance of those criteria, as Hans-Georg Gadamer did. Historical interpretations of the meaning of old texts which satisfy five presented criteria are objective both in the sense of being rationally defensible and in the sense of being correct. The five criteria are that the interpretation does (...) not violate any of the semantic and syntactic rules of the language in which it is written; resolves any obscurities of reference and ambiguities of meaning arising from these rules; provides a coherent body of information; performs the first three functions to a much greater degree than any other interpretation which the text warrants; and perhaps convincingly explains away any failure to perform the first three functions. To arrive at an interpretation which satisfies these criteria, an interpreter first studies the literal meaning of the text, according to the rules of its language, and if need be, then examines the literary and the historical contexts in which the text was produced, and finally may even find it necessary to reconstruct the author's intention in writing it. Secondary interpretations of a text are preferred which colligate a large number of facts about the text, and give a fair representation of its meaning as a whole. Numerous examples both illustrate and confirm the theory presented. (shrink)
Examines three arguments on the truthfulness of metaphorical interpretations of historical data. Arguments of historians Hayden White, F.R. Ankersmit, and H. Kellner; Historical interpretations as a reflection of historian's values and conceptual frameworks. Examines three arguments on the truthfulness of metaphorical interpretations of historical data. Arguments of historians Hayden White, F.R. Ankersmit, and H. Kellner; Historical interpretations as a reflection of historian's values and conceptual frameworks.
Instrumentalists use history to explain present entities or situations, not to explain an independent past. They incorrectly view historical hypotheses as imaginative reconstructions designed to explain present data. In fact, historical hypotheses do not imply the evidence, the evidence implies the hypotheses. Despite instrumentalist claims, the fact that an historical hypothesis best explains the evidence does not necessarily prove it true. Instrumentalists analogize history to science, but the incompatibility of subject matter and method invalidates the analogy. Scientific hypotheses discuss postulated (...) abstract entities; historical hypotheses discuss common occurrences about which there is much general knowledge. Scientific explanations use laws and theories; historical explanations use events and circumstances. (shrink)
Are the relations between the property of a thing and its related disposition to react in certain ways, and between the triggering of that disposition and the consequent effect, necessary? Harré and Madden, in their analysis of causal powers, said they are, but their arguments are not persuasive. Humeans like Simon Blackburn deny it. I criticize the Humean position, and argue afresh for their necessity. I note that David Lewis' analysis of causation requires their necessity, though as a confessed Humean (...) he has not admitted this. (shrink)