This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
1 2 3 4 Historical narratives are interpretations of the past. The terms historical narrative and interpretation provide better clues for an understanding of historiography than the terms description and explanation . We interpret not when we have too few data but when we have too many (see 4.3). Description and explanation require the "right" amount of data Scientific theories are underdetermined since an infinite number of theories may account for the known data; interpretations are underdetermined since only an infinite number of interpretations could account for all the known data. Interpretation is not translation. The past is not a text that has to be translated into narrative historiography; it has to be interpreted , Narrative interpretations are not necessarily of a sequential nature; historical narratives are only contingently stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Historical time is a relatively recent and highly artificial invention of Western civilization. It is a cultural, not a philosophical notion.
These theses summarize the views I expounded in my Narrative Logic: A Semantic Analysis of the Historian's Language , The Hague, 1983.
5 6 7
― 34 ― Hence, founding narrativism on the concept of time is building on quicksand. 8 9 Narrativism can explain time and is not explained by it (see 2.1.3 and 4.7.5). Twenty years ago philosophy of history was scientistic; one ought to avoid the opposite extreme of seeing historiography as a form of literature. Historism is the juste milieu between the two: Historism retains what is right in both the scientistic and the literary approaches to history and avoids what is hyperbolic in both. Historiography develops narrative interpretations of sociohistorical reality; literature applies them. There is no precise line of demarcation between historiography and narrativist philosophy of history (see 4.7.5 and 4.7.7). Narrativism accepts the past as it is. In the form of a tautology: it accepts what is unproblematic about the past. What is unproblematic is a historical fact. Both senses of the latter statement are true (see 3.4.1 and 3.4.2). It is necessary to distinguish between historical research (a question of facts) and historical writing (a question of interpretation). The distinction is similar, though by no means identical, to the distinction in philosophy of science between observation statement and theory. The results of historical research are expressed in statements; narrative interpretations are sets of statements. The interesting distinction is not that between the singular and the general statement but between the general statement and historical narrative. The singular statement may serve both masters.
10 11 12
29 30 31 . philosophy of action can never further our insight into historical narrative. Historists attempted to discover the essence. realism. White. ― 36 ― 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Interpretations strive for the unity that is characteristic of things (see 4. this notion is an unwarranted concession to historist. Narrativism is the modern heir of historism (not to be confused with Popper's historicism): both recognize that the historian's task is essentially interpretative (i. Philosophy of action can never speak the language of the unintended consequences of human action.4). H. Historism is an unexceptionable theory of history if it is translated from a theory about historical phenomena into a theory about our speaking about the past (that which was metaphysical must become linguistic). Historical narratives are not projections (onto the past) or reflections of the past. Narrativist philosophy of history deals with statements and not with their parts (like temporal indications). on the contrary. philosophy of action is only suited to prehistorist historiography. recognized that a historical interpretation projects a structure onto the past and does not discover it as if this structure existed in the past itself. Since it deals only with the components of historical narrative. which they assumed was present in the historical phenomena themselves. or narrativist. tied to it by translation rules which have their origin either in our daily experiences of the social world. The most crucial and most interesting intellectual challenges facing the historian are found on the level of historical writing (selection.e. Von Wright's and Ricoeur's attempts to solve this problem for philosophy of action are unsuccessful. O. interpretation. Narrativism. or in speculative philosophies of history. the historische Idee. as they called it. Insofar as the notion of plot or intrigue is suggestive of a structure or story present in the past itself. Mink). Philosophy of historical writing and the historical narrative in its totality are similarly related. ― 35 ― 17 There is an affinity between philosophy of historical research and the components (statements) of a historical narrative. The language of the unintended consequences is the language of interpretation (there ordinarily is a difference between the historian's perspective and that of the historical agent). V. or. Its distrust of (narrativist) holism prevents current philosophy from understanding historical narrative. how to see the past). to find unity in diversity). Historical meaning is different from the agent's intention. L. The logical connection argument is a special case of narrativism (in that it provides a logical scheme in which knowledge of the past is organized). As a philosophy of history.16 Temporal determinations are expressed in statements and not by statements and are therefore not of particular interest to narrativist philosophy of history. Walsh. in the social sciences. Being unable to transcend the limitations of methodological individualism. H.. it is historiographically naive. current philosophy of history is interested exclusively in historical research. With a few exceptions (W. The historian is essentially more than Collingwood's detective looking for the murderer of John Doe.
there is no fixity in the relation between them and the past. demanding for historical narrative what an only be given to the statement). but do not correspond or refer to it (as [parts of] statements do).1. not hypotheses. Speculative systems are used as master-narratives to which other narratives should conform.. this autonomy is recognized (see 4. There is no intrinsic difference between speculative systems and history proper. Epistemology is of relevance to philosophy of historical research. Foundationalism is interested in what is fundamentally uninteresting.32 33 34 35 36 Narrative interpretations are theses. ― 37 ― 37 38 39 40 Narrative interpretations "pull you out of historical reality" and do not "send you back to it" (as the statement does). they are used in different ways. Proposals may be useful. Narrative language shows the past in terms of what does not refer or correspondto parts or aspects of the past. disregards all the real problems of science and of historiography which only arise after that which others epistemology has been accepted as unproblematic.2). studying the relation between language and reality insofar as this relation is fixed and stable.5). but of narrative interpretations of the past. Narrative interpretations apply to the past. and only if. but differs from metaphysics because of its nominalism (see 4. The requirement that there should be such a relationship results from a category mistake (i. A philosophy of narrative makes sense if. Language is used for showing what belongs to a world different from it. Narrative language is autonomous with regard to the past itself. Logically. the point of view from which a painter paints a landscape).e.1). or not. ― 38 ― 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 The writing of history shares with metaphysics the effort of defining the essence of (part of) reality. Narrative interpretations are Gestalts . but of no importance to philosophy of historical writing or philosophy of narrative interpretation. the same can therefore be said of historical narratives. narrative interpretations are of the nature of proposals (to see the past from a certain point of view). Narrative language is not object language. In narrative language the relation between language and reality is systematically "destabilized" (see 5. The philosophical investigation of "what justifies historical descriptions" is an implicit denial and denigration of the historian's intellectual achievements. Much of current philosophy of historical narrative is bewitched by the picture of the statement. Epistemology. .7. fruitful. Narrativism is a constructivism not of what the past might have been like. Narrative interpretations in this regard resemble the models used by fashion designers for showing the qualities of their gowns and dresses. but cannot be either true or false. Since narrative interpretations only apply and do not refer (cf.
and in these statements. narrative proposals are of the nature of things (not of concepts). this is not the case. Cognitivism. Narrative interpretations cross the familiar border between the domain of things and the domain of language—as does metaphor. like things they can be spoken about without ever being part of the language in which they are mentioned . Narrative logic is strictly nominalist. reference is made to historical reality itself). 59 60. 5. 61. Names like Mannerismrefer to historical interpretations and not to past reality itself ("What Mannerism do you have in mind?" "Pevsner's Mannerism. with regard to narrative interpretations. Narrative language has no transparency and is unlike the glass paperweight through which we gain an unobstructed view of the past itself. unnoticed and undiscovered until 1884 when Arnold Toynbee wrote The Industrial Revolution in England .2. Logically. if a narrative interpretation goes unquestioned for a long time. 62 63 . it may turn into the notion of a (type of) thing. Mostly.6). or the Industrial Revolution). the meaning of the word chair cannot be reduced to the letters in the word). there is nothing fixed and absolute about the demarcation between what is interpretation and what belongs to the inventory of reality. A narrative thing (see 4. This is how our concepts of (types of) things originate.3."). Nevertheless. Narrative interpretations have no existential implications (for example: the Industrial Revolution is not a vast impersonal force in historical reality. Language is used here with the purpose of constructing a narrative interpretation which itself lies outside the domain of language. is the source of all realist misconceptions of historical narrative.1). The autonomy of narrative language with regard to the past itself does not in the least imply that narrative interpretations should be arbitrary (see 5. but an interpretative instrument for understanding the past). rather than of how knowledge is gained—has every reason to be interested in the results of narrativism. and becomes part of ordinary language (thereby losing its historiographical nature). Our age. This does not imply that these names are floating in a domain unrelated to historical reality itself (example: the name Mannerism refers to the statements of a narrative interpretation. Typification procedures decide what is still merely interpretative and what is real. Mannerism. with its excess of information—and confronted with the problem of the organization of knowledge and information. A historical discussion about the crisis of the seventeenth century. for example. however. Facts about the past may be arguments in favor of or against narrative interpretations but can never determine these interpretations (facts only [dis]prove statements about the past) (see 1. the Cold War. though the interpretation is "made out of" language (similarly. Our speaking about the past is covered by a thick crust not related to the past itself but to historical interpretation and the debate about rival historical interpretations. ― 39 ― 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 Narrative interpretations may have proper names (like the General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. Only interpretations can (dis)prove interpretations. is not a debate about the actual past but about narrative interpretations of the past.50 Narrative interpretations are not knowledge but organizationsof knowledge. is accepted by everybody.4) has become a thing in reality.
Historical narrative is a sustained metaphor. a narrative interpretation) (see 4. along the lines of the covering law model(CLM)—has its function exclusively on the level of historical research (and on that of the components of historical narrative): we should not ask for the cause of the Cold War since what this term refers to is a narrative interpretation. Metaphor and narrative interpretation form the basis of our language. 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 A historical narrative is a historical narrative only insofar as the (metaphorical) meaning of the historical narrative in its totality transcends the (literal) meaning of the sum of its individual statements. "John is a pig"). Metaphor shows what the metaphorical utterance is about in terms of something else (e. Interpretation logically precedes our (notions of) types of things. both historical narratives and metaphor consist of two operations only: 1) description. being sets of statements. Accepted. Without it. is a matter of degree. but results in definitions. literal meaning requires a fixed relation between language and reality. (Types of) things are then more fundamental than narrative interpretations. Being a historical narrative. Concepts of (types of) things (like dog or tree) are logically more complicated than narrative interpretations. Logically. Historical writing does not presuppose. one surveys an area exceeding by far the area on which the staircase 76 . The discrepancy between the (literal) meaning of the individual statements of a historical narrative—if taken separately—and the (metaphorical) meaning of historical narrative—if taken in its totality—is the scope of historical narrative. historical narrative shows the past in terms of what is not the past. Ontology is a systematization of interpretation. The statements of a historical narrative always have a double function: 1) to describe the past.e.g. Thanks to its autonomy with regard to historical reality—in historical narrative the relation between language and reality is constantly destabilized—historical narrative. Anyone who asks for the cause of the Cold War is really asking for a vigorous interpretation of events between 1944 and the early 1990s and not for a causal tie between two separate sets of events. is the birthplace of new meaning.. and 2) the individuation of a (metaphorical) point of view. This shows the difference between the chronicle (corresponding to the separate statement) ― 41 ― and historical narrative (corresponding to the totality of a narrative's statements). The historical narrative resembles a belvedere: after having climbed the staircase of its individual statements.. since they presuppose a typification procedure still absent in the case of the latter. narrativism is impossible. Without a theory of types.1). It makes no sense to ask for the cause of a historical interpretation. (i.64. Notions like the Cold War . like metaphor. similarly. A set of statements arbitrarily jumbled together has no scope. therefore. we inevitably look in the wrong direction. Causal explanation—for instance. are logically distinct from theoretical concepts. ― 40 ― 65 66 67 To require fixed meanings for words like the Cold War or Mannerismwould amount to requiring that historical debate should stop. and 2) to define or individuate a specific narrative interpretation of the past.
historic interpretation arises from the interaction of interpretations and should not be attributed to either a concrete individual nor to a transhistorical. The purpose of historiography is not the transformation of narrative things into real things (or their type concepts) (see 4. it attempts to bring about the dissolution of what seems known and unproblematic. L. transcendental subject. Historical insight. in order to be objective (for example. Similarly. interchangeable. Narrative scope is logically independent of the realm of values. All statements about a historical narrative are analytically either true or false. Metaphor and narrative are the trait d'union between the is and the ought —the is of the constative statements of a historical interpretation may suggest what ought to be done. formal scheme. This emphasis on disagreement and historiographical controversy requires us to reject the notion of a Cartesian or Kantian.was built. In contrast. which ethics and political philosophy attempt to bridge. historical insight lies in the empty narrative space between the narrative interpretations (it is stereoscopic. is only born in the space between rival narrative interpretations and cannot be identified with any specific (set of) interpretations.). Arendt. On the contrary. transcendental knowing subject. ― 42 ― 83 Historiographical debate. but the estrangement of what seems so familiar. which he is always attempting to bridge. 79 80 81 82 84 85 86 87 88 . Its goal is not the reduction of the unknown to the known. Popper. does not aim for agreement but for the proliferation of interpretative theses. Narrative scope only comes into being when one compares narrative interpretations with rival interpretations. historical narrative need not be value-free in order to have a large scope—that is. theories. we have no interpretation. If we have only one narrative interpretation of some historical topic. H. It is also the most "risky" or the most "courageous" historical narrative. therefore. general statements.7. 77 78 The historian's capacity to develop (metaphorical) narrative scope is the most formidable asset in his intellectual arsenal. The historian is the professional "outsider": the gap between himself and historical reality. Talmon. Cognitive knowledgeis to be identified with the linguistic means used for expressing it (singular statements. The best historical narrative is the most metaphorical historical narrative. hence not by individual narrative interpretations in isolation from others.5). Modern historiography is based on a political decision. Historical insight is constituted in and by historiographical controversy and not by the individual phases of historiographical controversy. etc. the historical narrative with the largest scope. The narrative scope of a historical narrative cannot be established by considering only thathistorical narrative. For Aristotle. is identical to the gap between the individual and society. the notion of the totalitarian state proposed by K. the nonnarrativist has to prefer an unmeaning historical narrative without internal organization. J. ultimately. Leibniz's predicate in notion principle is the crucial theorem of the logic of historical interpretation. experience and knowledge are the interaction between us and the world and not an abstraction from it determined by a transcendentalist. therefore. The Aristotelian view is to be preferred. and others was not value-free but had a very large scope). The ethical dimension must therefore be ubiquitous in historiography. so to speak).
the fact that narrative interpretations already play a role on the level of the life of the human individual can never be an argument in favor of a certain variant of narrative realism (i. statements about historical ― 43 ― narratives). in practice. as positivism suggests (see 4. The subject term in narrative statements is unvoiceable. the view that historical knowing should be modelled on our experiences of daily reality). Thus: identity precedes individuality. not the reverse.. this requirement can never be more than an exhortation to historians to do their job carefully and conscientiously. Consequently.7. The notion of the self is a historical. There is no room for historical skepticism. It is the reverse: interpretative narrativism has already invaded our daily reality. 90 91 Narrative interpretations have explanatory force since the description of historical states of affairs can be analytically derived from them.e. We can see the rationality of why historians in a certain phase of historical debate preferred one view of the past to another. Quine) is incorrect for narrative statements (i. The roots of historicity go deeper than is suggested by either modern historiography or current philosophy (of history).5). This is the kernel of truth in Anglo-Saxon hermeneutics. precisely because it merely "collects" the statements contained by a historical narrative. The concepts of (types of) individual things are logically dependent upon narrative interpretations (identity). narrative interpretation—the narrative interpretation that is presupposed by all other historical interpretations. But.e. 92 93 94 95 .89 The fashionable view that the variables of quantification will take the place of the subject term in statements (Russell. Skepticism only results if one is not content with the rationality of historical debate and absolute foundationsare required..
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.