This book explains and defends a central ideas in the theory of history put forward by R. G. Collingwood, perhaps the foremost philosopher of history in the 20th century. Professor Dray analyses critically the idea of re-enactment, explores the limits of its applicability, and determines its relationship to other key Collingwoodian ideas, such as the role of imagination in historical thinking, and the indispensability of a point of view.
There is no necessary connection between the ideas of history and of narration. The historical work should be explanatory, but a narrative is not itself a form of explanation. Walsh, despite Danto's objections, is correct in distinguishing "plain" from "significant" narratives. Both White's causal-chain model and Danto's model of causal input suggest that an historical narrative can be eq~planatory only if it offers causal explanation. But Gallie's followable contingency model contains several structural ideas which bring him into logical conflict with (...) the claims of these causal models. According to Gallie, explanations are intrusive, required only by failure of narrative continuity. A narrative becomes explanatory when it can incorporate contingencies, which may be necessary conditions instead of causes. History, unlike science, strives for synthetic unity rather than for the removal of all contingency from its subject matter. The role narrative plays in achieving this unity deserves increased philosophic attention. (shrink)
J. H. Hexter, an American historian of early seventeenth-century history, terms himself whiggish and claims whiggishness is returning after the misguided popularity of Marxism. The distinction "whiggish" is more elusive than his claim suggests, and the accuracy of its application to Hexter's claim is unclear. Three characteristics commonly assigned to whig interpretation by its critics can be seen as reflections of broader, unresolved historical issues. These are: attention to political and constitutional issues; a tendency to refer to the present in (...) interpreting the past; and a belief in inevitability. It is difficult to ascertain whether Hexter's attention to political matters is a result of his view of them as intrinsically important to historical inquiry or as particularly relevant to historical accounts of Stuart England. The charge of presentism cannot confidently be made against him, as he is not guilty of anything as crude as anachronism, and subtle presentism is neither avoidable nor necessarily reprehensible. Inevitabilism is not only difficult to define, it is not displayed by Hexter. If he displays the weaknesses of whiggishness it is only through implication, in the body of ideas underlying his text. (shrink)
Dray: Mandelbaum legislates regarding the historian's "task" in the guise of descriptive analysis. He seems to envisage two fundamental tasks for the historian: explaining, and relating parts to wholes. Contrary to Mandelbaum's implication, there is no more opposition between narration and either of these tasks than there is between the two tasks themselves.Ely: Mandelbaum refutes White and Danto, who both hold that historical writing is essentially narrative; but not Gallie, who asserts that historical writing is necessarily, but never solely, a (...) narrative construction. The claim that history is essentially narrative is fruitful even though false because it recognizes an important characteristic of historical thinking - the historian's conceptual isolation of a series of intentional human actions from the situations with which they were designed to cope.Gruner: Mandelbaurn is correct in his criticism of narrativism, but does not support his criticism by good reasons. Historians offer both static, non-narrative descriptions and kinetic, narrative descriptions. Historical description is therefore not the same as historical narration; the latter is only a species of the former. (shrink)
Central to R. G. Collingwood's philosophy of history, and among the most controvrsial of his doctrines, is the contention that historical understanding requires a re-anactment of past experience or a re-thinking of past thought. Some critics have found this contention in it-self incoherent or otherwise unsatisfactory, even as applied to what Collingwood apparently regarded as paradigm cases of historical thinking: for example, accounting for Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in terms of his political ambitions. Others, while accepting the applicability of (...) notions like re-enactment and re-thinking to such cases, have nevertheless rejected them as a basis for a general theory of historical understanding on the ground that their range of application is too narrow to encompass anything like the normal concerns of historians. In particular, these notions have been held to throw little light on what historians have had to say about largescale social events, conditions and processes. (shrink)
Toynbee was not a faultless practitioner of his empirical methodology, but his concepts of evidence, verification, and law are adequate in principle. Toynbee's affirmation of a tough-minded metaphysical doctrine of free will, however, has the result that all "evidence" for historical laws is only presumptive and that no laws can ever be established. Since the doctrine may be treated as an excresence upon Toynbee's theory of history, the indeterminist and antinomian should ignore or reformulate it in assessing Toynbee's conclusions.