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In this introductory essay we briefly discuss three issues. First, we take stock of and pay
tribute to the main achievements of narrativism, on the one hand. On the other hand, we
also note its weariness as a scholarly project and argue that the philosophy of history is
gradually moving toward a broadly understood postnarrativist stage and a period of re-
newed theoretical innovation. Next, as a part of this shift, we briefly introduce the forum
contributions and discuss how they relate to narrativism. Finally, in place of a conclusion
we offer some thoughts on where the philosophy of history might be heading after narra-
tivism has ceased to be the integrative framework of diverging theoretical enterprises.

Keywords: philosophy of history, narrativism, postnarrativism, historical experience,

epistemology, representation, future research

There have been two great traditions in the philosophy of history in the post-
World War II period. Carl Hempel’s article, “The Function of General Laws in
History” (published during the war, in 1942), kick-started a scholarly discourse
that later came to be known as the analytic philosophy of history, 1 which domi-
nated the discussion until the emergence of narrativism in the 1970s in the form
of Hayden White’s Metahistory;2 Frank Ankersmit’s Narrative Logic is another
landmark publication.3
Narrativism or narrativist philosophy of history has forced philosophers and

. Carl G. Hempel, “The Function of General Laws in History,” Journal of Philosophy 39, no. 2
(1942), 35-48.

. Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Balti-
more: John Hopkins University Press, 1973).

. Frank R. Ankersmit, Narrative Logic: A Semantic Analysis of the Historian’s Language (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1983).
theorists to reconsider a large number of central concepts and problems in the
field: the relation between the research and writing of history, the relation be-
tween experience and literary presentation, the standards of evaluation, the mode
and nature of historiographical (re)presentation, the problems of truth and objec-
tivity, and so forth. Meanwhile, in a much wider context, theorizing on narrativi-
ty and research on the narrative aspects of human and cultural phenomena have
spread far beyond historiography to many other related fields in the humanities.
To mention a few, phenomenologists like Paul Ricoeur and David Carr argue
that human experience is narratively structured; Alasdair MacIntyre taks about
the “narrative unity of human life;” and psychologist Jerome Bruner distin-
guishes narrative as a “mode of cognitive functioning” or “mode of thought,”
opposed to logical arguments.4
Given this broad range of approaches to narrative, first we need to specify ex-
actly what we mean by “philosophy of history” when we assess its narrativist
form. A terminological confusion results in linguistic problems, but more im-
portant than that is its bearing on substance. The traditional terms for dividing
this field into essentially different approaches are “speculative philosophy of
history” as opposed to “critical philosophy of history,” or “substantive philoso-
phy of history” as opposed to “analytical philosophy of history,” introduced
respectively by William Walsh and Arthur Danto.5 These distinctions, however,
cannot be said to characterize contemporary discussions in the field. It is evident
that “history” as a term and as an object of research is ambiguous and can mean
the ever-evolving axis between past, present, and future on the one hand, and
historical writing on the other, for example. In addition, different genres of phi-
losophizing cannot be demarcated in the way that perhaps worked at the time of
Walsh and Danto. Recently, along these lines, Aviezer Tucker suggested clearly
distinguishing “history” (as the past) from “historiography” (as a discipline that
studies the past) and therefore also “philosophy of history” from “philosophy of
historiography.”6 Indeed, even within a narrativist framework, arguably both
history and historiography could be studied either speculatively or analytically
(whatever these exactly mean).
Also, we had to take into consideration that lately it has become fairly com-

. See David Carr, Time, Narrative, and History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986);
Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984–1988);
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory [1981] (Notre Dame, IN: University of
Notre Dame Press, 2007); Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1986) 11-43.

. William H. Walsh, Philosophy of History: An Introduction (New York: Harper, 1960), 9-28;
Arthur C. Danto, Narration and Knowledge: Including the Integral Text of Analytical Philosophy of
History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 1-16.

. Aviezer Tucker, “Introduction,” in A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiog-
raphy, ed. Aviezer Tucker (Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2009), 1-7.
mon to talk about the “theory of history,” although, unfortunately, it is not clear
how “theory” differs from “philosophy.”7 Finally, the field of “history and phi-
losophy of science” contains much discussion that is directly relevant to theoret-
ical and philosophical concerns with history and historiography. For example,
discussion on whether “truth” can be an explanatory factor in explanations of the
history of science poses a core question in the “philosophy of historiography,”8
whereas the debate on whether history of science progresses is a topic in the
“philosophy of history” (not totally dissimilar to the old-time speculative ques-
tions on the meaning or direction of history).
All in all, the best expression would be “theory and philosophy of history and
historiography,” because it would be all-encompassing and does not discrimi-
nate between different objects of research and scholarly traditions. However,
this clearly is a long and awkward expression. “Philosophy of history and histo-
riography” also felt too cumbersome as a field-designating term (although some
of us use it in our contributions). For the sake of convenience, in this introduc-
tion we have decided to use to the expression “philosophy of history” to talk
about this large and expanding field in general, which also includes but is not
limited to philosophizing (and “theorizing”) about historiography. Additionally,
in our individual contributions, each of us is responsible for specifying (or leav-
ing unspecified) his terminology and his specific object of investigation.
The achievements of narrativism are undeniable in philosophy of history. It
would be enough to note that narrativism kept theoretical discussion on history
and historiography alive once the attention of analytic philosophers shifted to
other issues by the early 1970s, when the interest in the concerns of analytic
philosophy of history waned in general. However, its philosophical contributions
are even more important. First, narrativism correctly shifted attention from at-
omistic statements about the past or fragments of a text to entire texts of histori-
ography and the features of texts. Second, it suggested that texts provide and
amount to synthesized views of the past. Narrativists gave this synthesizing enti-
ty various names, such as “narrative,” “narrative substance,” or “representation.”
Third, narrativists remarked that texts exhibit qualities (coherence, fullness,
meanings, and so on) that have no counterpart in the past and that should be
understood as “subject-sided” creations and postulations about the past by the
Narrativism has now been the received view in the philosophy of history for
decades. It is probably fair to say that as a scholarly project, it has not advanced

. On this question, see Kerwin Lee Klein, From History to Theory (Berkeley: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 2012); cf. Nancy Partner’s take on “historical theory:” Nancy Partner, “Foundations:
Theoretical Framework for Knowledge of the Past,” in The SAGE Handbook of Historical Theory,
ed. Nancy Partner and Sarah Foot (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013), 1-9.

. Cf. David Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1991).
theoretically in recent years with insights as surprising as those of the 1970s and
1980s. Narrativism and many of its tenets have also been subjected to criticism
in the pages of this and other journals. One could also surmise that it has started
to transform itself into something else. Some leading narrativists of the early
years, like Ankersmit, have redefined their scholarly interests and replaced some
central concepts with others, indicating a shift from the concerns of the early
narrativist school to other issues. As will become apparent from the contribu-
tions to this forum, the focus is now on “representation” rather than on “narra-
tive substances,” and on experience rather than on linguistic aspects. Around the
same time as this shift in theoretical attention took place, the notion of “pres-
ence” also emerged and raised expectations that it might structure future re-
search;9 there are also recent indications that the notion and status of truth in
historiographical evaluation is being reconsidered.10
In light of these developments, now seems to be a good time for an assess-
ment of narrativism as a school and as a theoretical orientation.11 It may be, and
this is what all of the contributors to this forum agree upon, that narrativism has
reached its peak and that the philosophy of history is gradually moving toward a
broadly understood postnarrativist stage and to a period of renewed innovation.
This is not to say, of course, that everything should be rejected. Some themes
and topics have proved to be enduring, such as the central narrativist insight that
books of history contain some kind of content-synthesizing view or thesis. Some
themes and topics should be carried over for further analysis, and some may be
understood as openings for new investigations.
Generally speaking, our individual contributions try to maintain such a
balanced approach. In the first three essays, by Anton Froeyman, Zoltán
Boldizsár Simon, and Martin Nosál, balance takes the shape of the shared
intention to reconcile experience and language in a way that, although it
counters narrativism in denying the absolute incompatibility between language
and experience, nevertheless takes seriously the narrativist insight about the
constitutive force of language. It is on this ground that in the opening paper,
Froeyman makes the case for a more constructive relationship between the two
based on a dialogical ethics of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. In an

. See the indicative title Presence: Philosophy, History, and Cultural Theory for the Twenty-
First Century, ed. Ranjan Gosh and Ethan Kleinberg (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013).

. See, for example, Frank R. Ankersmit, Meaning, Truth and Reference in Historical Represen-
tations (New York: Cornell University Press, 2012).

. This, of course, is not the only way to evaluate narrativism or the impact of “narrative.” For
assessments that treat narrativism as other than a comprehensive theoretical orientation within the
philosophy of history, see Nancy Partner, “Narrative Persistence: The Post-Postmodern Life of Nar-
rative Theory,” in Re-Figuring Hayden White, ed. Frank Ankersmit, Ewa Domanska, and Hans
Kellner (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 81-104; Ann Rigney, “History as Text: Narra-
tive Theory and History,” in Partner and Foot, eds., The SAGE Handbook of Historical Theory, 183-
existentialist manner, language here is responsible for conveying an experience
that enables the encounter of human beings over a temporal distance.
Accordingly, the role of the historian would be to devise the language that might
be able to convey such experience and thereby to establish the encounter.
In light of this, it must be clear that what interests Froeyman above all is the
question of how historical experience can be created by and through writing
histories. In narratology, experience as triggered by the text is called
experientiality, and Froeyman is content with possible objections, pointing out
that experientiality is what lies in his focus. However, he at least hints at the
possibility that due to the mediated character of all experience, the notions of
experience and experientiality might not be significantly different. In contrast to
this, Zoltán Boldizsár Simon takes as a point of departure a phenomenological
notion of experience according to which experience qualifies as experience
insofar as it thwarts expectations, implying the collapse of linguistic
conceptualizations that otherwise are constitutive of experiences. The question
to which Simon pays attention is how such moments of mute historical
experiences provoke new insights that eventually take the shape of written
Simon’s answer is a theory of expression in which the initial experience that
thwarts expectations only instigates a process of expression but does not feature
as the ultimate expressed. In fact, in his theory of expression there is no such
thing identifiable as the expressed. Along these lines, Simon is able to recognize
both the possibility of unmediated experiences that nevertheless remain mute
and the constitutive force of language regarding voiced experiences. However,
he does not treat them as incompatible and goes on to outline a process of
expression as the mutual engagement of historical experience and language in
the production of new insights in the writing of histories. Because the initial
experience only instigates an operation but does not get expressed, Simon refers
to the process typographically by making use of a struck-through “of,” as in the
expression of historical experience.
Whereas Froeyman and Simon, notwithstanding their diverging paths, make
their respective cases within a common framework of what they consider to be
the current state of affairs of the philosophy of history into which they integrate
other concerns, Nosál proceeds in reverse. In his essay, he tries to integrate the
current concerns of the philosophy of history into a Gadamerian framework,
claiming that the problematic issues of the relationship between historical expe-
rience and historical narratives can best be explained on the basis of Gadamerian
hermeneutics, provided that historical experience is a subcategory of experience
as such.
Nosál proposes that the hermeneutical circle, in which experience and lan-
guage constantly and endlessly throw new light onto and compel modifications
in each other, plausibly describes how the world becomes articulated, even when
that world is the historical world. Tracing Gadamer’s thoughts on the experience
of the work of art and on the articulation of the world, Nosál argues for the in-
separability of experience and language in a way in which neither of them bears
the sole responsibility for the final shape of the other. Actually, in a Gadamerian
approach, neither of them has either a final or an original shape that could be
achieved and identified as such. This might be one of the most appealing aspects
of Nosál’s proposal for those who think, with Foucault, that the search for ori-
gins necessarily implies essentialism. And in this respect, though Nosál opposes
the received view of the hostility between experience and language, on the one
hand (just as Froeyman and Simon do), on the other, he remains very much in
accordance with the dominantly anti-essentialist theoretical work of recent dec-
Whereas the first three essays have their shared concern in the relationship be-
tween historical narrative and historical experience with less inclination toward
the cognitive functions of historiography (which, of course, does not mean the
negation of the relevance of the issue), the next two articles explicitly address
questions of epistemology. In his paper, Eugen Zeleňák compares two versions
of a general constructivist approach to historiography. The central tenet of con-
structivism is that historians’ views and interpretations do not mirror the past but
are creative constructions by historians. The first version of constructivisim,
called representationalism and which can be traced in some form in the works of
Arthur Danto, Louis Mink, and Frank Ankersmit, still commits to the notion of
representation, although in this view, representation should not be understood as
a straightforward description of the past but as something more complex and
indirect. The second, nonrepresentationalist, version, advocated for example by
Paul Roth and Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, goes further than this and rejects the
notion of representation as misguided. Nonrepresentationalists emphasize the
role of the practice of historians in construction; they argue that works of history
are outcomes of certain historiographical practices.
The key representationalist innovation is to add a third element between a text
and the past that provides a perspective on or a view of the past. According to
Zeleňák, nonrepresentationalists see this as problematic for at least three rea-
sons: it retains the realists’ naïve idea that historians try to capture the past in
their interpretations; the status and nature of the third item is unclear; and it en-
tails a metaphysically problematic commitment to the distinction between form
and content. Zeleňák outlines two nonrepresentationalist alternatives. Roth’s
suggestion is to accept that the past does not fix the categories we use for mak-
ing sense of it. Kuukkanen’s proposal is to understand historiography as
a discursive practice with an aim not to re-present anything but to present theses
and arguments. Zeleňák remarks that, initially, nonrepresentationalism seems to
be a radical and even extreme position because it may appear to reject that the
past has any role in historiographical construction. However, Zeleňák concludes
that, in reality, nonrepresentationalism merely attributes a different function to
the past in historiographical construction from representationalism and does not
subscribe to the claim “No past in history!”
In the final essay of this forum, Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen argues that, although
historical realism is a natural starting point in historiography, it is necessary to
move from truth-functionality to performativity in the philosophy of historiog-
raphy. This analysis is based on what Kuukkanen calls the narrativist insight,
that is, that any book of history contains some kind of content-synthesizing enti-
ty that provides its main thesis or view of the past, which amounts to its central
cognitive contribution. However, Kuukkanen rejects narrativists’ notion of nar-
rative as the central organizing unit of books of history and suggests that it is
reasoning and argumentation that binds different parts of the text together. Un-
like narratives, arguments—and theses as their conclusions—are not holistic
entities and are therefore in principle composable and evaluable by means of
truth-values. The problem with truth-functionality is that historians’ theses are
performative interventions and proposals for how to view the past that do not
have truth-makers in the past to make them true or false. Also, the colligatory
language of historiography leads to the same conclusion because colligations are
nonreferential arrangements of historical data.
According to Kuukkanen, the central challenge of postnarrativist philosophy
of historiography is to outline a theory of rational evaluation without truth (as
correspondence) and without falling into an “anything goes” position.
Kuukkanen asks what notions other than truth-functionality can provide epis-
temic authority to a historian’s thesis of the past and submits that epistemic au-
thority stems from rationality. When historians put forward a thesis on the past,
they commit to providing grounds and reasons for the stated. And if historians
succeed in playing this “game of giving and asking reasons,” their thesis be-
comes rationally warranted and belief-worthy. In brief, the (inferential) practice
of giving reasons is itself a form of justification. Finally, Kuukkanen briefly
outlines a more discipline-specific theory of justification in historiography that
has three dimensions: (1) the epistemic, (2) the rhetorical, and (3) the discursive.
These three together amount to the overall cognitive justification of a historio-
graphical thesis.
What must be apparent after these introductory lines is that whereas the issues
of narrative and language could somehow have shepherded diverging theoretical
approaches in the last half century, at present there is no such cohering force or
shared concern within the field. Narrativism, growing into the most comprehen-
sive theoretical edifice to explain historical writing as such, could subsume prac-
tically any line of theorizing. The question of narrative in history and historiog-
raphy brought a variety of approaches into discussion with one another: phe-
nomenological investigations, poststructuralist and postmodernist approaches,
constructivist epistemologies, certain insights of analytic philosophy, literary
theory, and so forth; this list could be continued for paragraphs. Accordingly,
matters of epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics could equally find their articula-
tion within a narrativist framework. Or, seen from below, individual contribu-
tions to the philosophy of history could hardly escape associating with narra-
tivism in one way or another. All in all, it is this constellation that seems to fade
out: not narrativism as a scholarly project, but narrativism as an integrating
It also must be apparent, however, that the lack of a dominant integrative ori-
entation of narrativism does not mean a total lack of cohesion. It rather means
that the cohesion of the field takes the shape of sets of questions and clusters of
problematics that hold together diverging approaches on a smaller scale. Narra-
tivism did not vanish completely, but became one of these.12 Not the most inno-
vative and appealing one, but—like a retiring sports legend with spectacular past
achievements—it is still the cluster in relation to which new approaches like to
position themselves or aspire to be set against. This precisely is the ground on
which the contributions to this forum proceed. While positioning themselves in
relation to narrativism, they fall mainly into two of the aforementioned clusters
of orientation: an epistemologically focused approach inspired chiefly by analyt-
ic philosophy, and an approach that has more affinity toward continental philos-
ophy motivated by nonlinguistic concerns.
That our discussions fall within the scope of these two orientations does not
mean that we attribute to them primacy or dominance over other new approaches
whose coexistence might configure a broadly understood postnarrativist field
within the philosophy of history. As it stands, our main orientations sometimes
intertwine with other clusters of orientation; there are many others we have hard-
ly touched upon. To mention only a few, in times when the value of the humani-
ties is being questioned again, it comes as no surprise that there is a tangible in-
terest in the ethical, social, and political implications of history. Also, partly in
connection to this and partly independently, there is ongoing conceptual work
concerning notions of historical time and temporality, which, in turn, pushes
some toward considering the possibility of philosophizing about history under-
stood as the course of events. Again, partly in connection to this and partly inde-
pendently, the possibility that we have entered into what some call the Anthropo-
cene might challenge historical thinking and historical writing to their very

. What this means is that some approaches suggest that there is still invaluable potential in nar-
rativist research. A currently vivid line of argument claims (or sometimes only implies) that, in one
way or another, narrative is the best we have to establish a connection between the discipline of
history and the wider ethical, social, and political concerns of the general public or the popular rep-
resentations of the past. For a variety of suggestions and studies, see Hayden White, The Practical
Past (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014); Kalle Pihlainen, “Rereading Narrative
Constructivism,” Rethinking History 17, no. 4 (2013), 509-527; Berber Bevernage, History, Memory,
and State-Sponsored Violence: Time and Justice (London: Routledge, 2012); Jerome de Groot,
Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture (London and New
York: Routledge, 2009).
core.13 Furthermore, some philosophers have called for more explicit analyses of
research practices prior to textual presentation in historiography. 14 Finally, it
should also be noted that there is a lively discussion on counterfactuality and con-
tingency in historiography of science that is also relevant in the philosophy of
Whether all these and other newly born efforts will remain synchronous in a
happy pluralism or, to a certain extent, will be integrated within a comprehensive
philosophy of history with a more or less shared vocabulary (as was the case with
narrativism) is the question of the future. We nevertheless have our preferences,
and after discussing what the case was and what it is currently, instead of a con-
clusion we would like to envision the scenarios that we consider to be the most
likely or most desirable ones. Somewhat naturally, these scenarios stem from our
individual projects, which we probably would not pursue if we thought that they
had no wider consequences. On this premise, one of us (Kuukkanen) suggests
that we need studies of how books of history are structured. Naturally, narrativ-
ists, and specifically White, examined historiography as a form of literary presen-
tation. But if historiography is understood as reasoning and a mode of argumenta-
tive practice, as Kuukkanen understands it, it is necessary to learn more about
how historians aim to persuade their peers and audience to accept their theses of
history. Books of historiography need not resemble anything like formal argu-
mentation in logic and argumentation theory (although the formal principles may
be implied). Therefore, it is worth asking what kind of strategies, means, and
modes of argumentation are used.16 In a word, books of history should be exam-
ined as instances of historiography-specific reasoning and argumentation.
A metahistoriographical research topic also emerges from the argumentative

. To provide a sample of these sometimes interrelated, sometimes separated concerns, see
Breaking up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future, ed. Chris Lorenz and
Berber Bevernage (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013); Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The
History Manifesto (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Eelco Runia, Moved by the
Past: Discontinuity and Historical Mutation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Dipesh
Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (2009), 197-222; see
also the “AHR Roundtable: History Meets Biology,” American Historical Review 119, no. 5 (2014),
1492-1629, especially Julia Adeney Thomas, “History and Biology in the Anthropocene: Problems
of Scale, Problems of Value,” American Historical Review 119, no. 5 (2014), 1587-1607.

. See Aviezer Tucker, Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004); or, in a different context with different objectives, see
Herman Paul, “Performing History: How Historical Scholarship Is Shaped by Epistemic Virtues,”
History and Theory 50, no. 1 (2011), 1-19.

. See, for example, a special theme section, “The Contingentism versus Inevitabilism Issues,”
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 39, no. 2 (2008) and the Focus section, “Counterfactu-
als and the History of Science,” Isis 99, no. 3 (2008).

. Stephen Toulmin is one of the first to study forms of argumentation and strategies of natural
language. See his classic The Uses of Argument (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
view. There have been various suggestions for what historiography fundamen-
tally is, but two rival views have dominated the debate: typically, historiography
has been understood either as a science or as an art form with some unique char-
acteristics. Whereas Rankeans took historiography as a science, narrativists lik-
ened it initially to literature and more recently to visual art in its mode of repre-
sentation. In future research, historiography may be understood instead as a ra-
tional and critical praxis, the rationale of which is to critique existing views and
conceptions of history produced by other historians or held by the public. It
would be interesting to study the kinds of argumentative contexts of historiog-
raphy in more detail, asking how, with what purpose, and with what effect histo-
rians position themselves in their argumentative fields.
The other author of this introduction (Simon) imagines rather that a successful
philosophy of history might be the one that can bring together again the dual
meaning of the concept of history, understood both as the course of events and
as historical writing: not as a return to substantive concerns, but as an interde-
pendence of a quasi-substantive philosophy of history that takes postwar criti-
cism seriously but nevertheless accounts for change in the course of events, on
the one hand, and a critical philosophy of history with a renewed interest in the
nonlinguistic and in its relation to the linguistic, on the other. Such a philosophy
of history, in case it proves able to establish the link between theorizing about
the course of events and theorizing about historical writing, might even integrate
many of the present clusters of orientation. However, in what Simon considers
to be the most appealing scenario, it would not necessarily entail that other con-
cerns that happen to fall out of its scope could not prevail and flourish.
Regardless of whichever of these envisioned scenarios eventually comes true,
or regardless of whatever scenario we could not even dream of eventually comes
true, one thing seems certain: because of a lack of an integrative framework, the
philosophy of history is at present a lively arena of inventive intellectual en-
deavors. Those who are engaged in a quest for a new integrative framework,
those who wish rather to push more particular agendas within a pluralistic theo-
retical universe, and those who decide to continue the narrativist project while
being open to connecting it to freshly emerging concerns, can all be equally ex-
cited. And this, we believe, is good news for everyone.

University of Oulu (Kuukkanen)

University of Bielefeld (Simon)