Critical history
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CRITICAL HISTORY Major concern is methodology Particularly the crucial question of on what grounds can historians reasonably demonstrate that they know what they claim to know They investigate the question of the verifiability of historical knowledge

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CRITICAL HISTORY

  • Major concern is methodology

    • Particularly the crucial question of on what grounds can historians reasonably demonstrate that they know what they claim to know

    • They investigate the question of the verifiability of historical knowledge

      • They compare the logic, rigor, and techniques of history against the methodology of the natural sciences

      • They look at the method of forming an explanation

      • They look at what the meaning of causation is

      • They look at the problems of being objective


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INVARIABLE RELATIONSHIPS

  • Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and others tried to establish more reliable means for studying the natural world

    • Favored mathematical formulations for testing and expressing their findings

    • Major achievement was the assertion that whenever some combination of prior conditions existed in a particular instance, then a certain and predictable kind of outcome necessarily would follow

      • Known as an invariable relationship


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SCIENTIFIC LAWS

  • Formal logic connected the anterior or preceding conditions to the observable outcome by means of affirming a general, or empirical, law

    • This law simply said that, after repeated verifications through experimentation, whenever those kinds of conditions came into being, the same outcome or consequences would take place

    • General laws stated that, given the same causes, very similar effects almost surely reoccur


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SCHOLARLY DILEMMA

  • Those disciplines that were less demanding in logical form or less mathematical in orientations were viewed as inferior forms of inquiry and dismissed as pseudosciences

    • Such as history

  • Serious students of human affairs therefore presented with two alternative courses of action

    • Seek to emulate the natural sciences and seek to present their findings as general statements of invariable relationships

    • Insist of the propriety and integrity of the traditional methods and techniques within their own fields and reject the need to adhere to the models of the natural sciences

      • Argued that a subject like history was a class of learning unto itself, that it was distinct and unique and therefore had methods that were also distinct and unique


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POSITIVISM

  • Primarily the work of Auguste Comte but subsequently embraced and elaborated by Henry Thomas Buckle and John Stuart Mill

  • Sought to transform the study of human affairs into a more systematic form of enquiry by endorsing the techniques of the natural sciences

    • Concentrated their attention on uniformities and similarities in the course of human affairs and then located the invariable relationships that linked the same kinds of experiences

    • Presumed the existence of general laws governing the outcomes of human activity

John Stuart Mill


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AUGUSTE COMTE

  • Ideas laid out in 6 volume Cours de philosophie positive and 4 volume Système de politique positive

    • Provided foundation for the creation of the discipline of sociology


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BASIC ASSUMPTIONS

  • Claimed that the human mind had developed historically through three stages

    • Concentrated on the “vanguard of the human race”

      • People of Italy, France, England, Germany, and Spain

    • Preferred high level of abstraction

      • Wished to employ history “without the names of men, or even of nations”

      • Preferred the sciences and their development, not human events like wars and political affairs

    • Ranked the sciences in a hierarchy, based on their difficulty

      • Mathematics at the bottom, then astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology (biology) and sociology at the top


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LAW OF THE THREE STAGES

  • Theological stage

    • Human beings saw the world as controlled by wills independent from their own but subject to being manipulated by either prayer or magic

  • Methaphysical stage

    • Abstract forces, such as the requirements of nature or the will of the people, governed all things

  • Positivist stage

    • An understanding of the invariable relationships among phenomena was used to explain reality


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HOLISTIC THINKING

  • Comte thought in holistic terms, affirming that each mental stage corresponded with other kinds of intellectual and institutional developments

    • Theological phase coexisted with military life and primitive slavery

    • Metaphysical phase coexisted with lawyers and attempts at creating governments based on law

    • Positivist phase coexisted with industrialization


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THE POSITIVIST PHASE

  • No need to indulge in idle speculation over first or final causes in positivist phase

    • Historians would concentrate their full attention on knowable subjects and the revelation of lawlike regularities that affirmed invariable relationships among phenomena

      • These would not depend on theological or metaphysical presumptions but upon empirical observations of the real world

        • This, in turn would result in a new human science, sociology

          • Would lead to new kinds of understanding of the laws governing human behavior and, consequently, new certainties about how to best calculate the probable outcomes of deliberate human acts


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“IDEALIST” REACTION

  • Wilhelm Dilthey

  • Drew fundamental distinction between the natural sciences, on the one hand, and the human sciences, on the other

    • The practice of each called by distinctive methodologies because the natural scientist dealt with regularities and uniformities in nature while the historian dealt with the unique, specific, and unrepeatable events outside of nature


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BENEDETTO CROCE

  • Emphasized the all-important fact that historians existed in the present

    • For the past to take on vitality and meaning, historians had to make it come alive by rethinking it in their own minds

    • “All history is contemporary history”


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ROBIN COLLINGWOOD

  • Published The Idea of History posthumously in 1943

    • Considered to be the most significant book on the philosophy of history ever written in English

  • Described history as “the science of human nature”

    • Aim was self-knowledge

    • Proper object of historical study was the activities of the human mind

      • Historians learned about the mind by understanding what the mind had done


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INSIDE/OUTSIDE

  • Methods of natural sciences has no analogous relationship with the methods of the human sciences

    • “the historian, investigating any event in the past, makes a distinction between what may be called the outside and the inside of an event”

  • Outside an event

    • “everything belonging to it which can be described in terms of bodies and their movements”

  • Inside an event

    • “that which can only be described in terms of thought”


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PURPOSE OF HISTORY

  • The historian is never concerned with either of these (outside/inside) to the exclusion of the other.

    • “the work of the historian may begin by discovering the outside of an event, but it can never end there; he must always remember that the event was an action, and that his main task is to think himself into this action, to discern the thought of his agent”


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THESIS

  • “In the case of nature, this distinction between the outside and the inside of an event does not arise.”

    • “the events of nature are merely events, not the acts of agents whose thought the scientist endeavors to trace”

  • “To the scientist, nature is always, and merely, a phenomenon, a spectacle presented to his intelligent observation”

  • For the historian, in contrast, “the events of history are never mere phenomena, never mere spectacles for contemplation, but things which the historian looks, not at, but through, to discern the thought within them.”


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TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY

  • In seeking to penetrate “to the inside of events and detecting the thought which they express, the historian is doing something which the scientist need not and cannot do.”

  • In terms of methodology (of how to do this):

    • “there is only one way in which it can be done; by rethinking them in his own mind”

      • “the history of thought, and therefore all history, is the reenactment of past thought in the historians’ own mind”

      • The creative and critical experience “reveals to the historian the powers of his own mind,” and hence all minds, resulting in a fuller appreciation of human nature as revealed by the mind while working on actual experience


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POSITIVIST CRITIQUE

  • Positivists charged that idealist approach lacked methodological integrity and defied verifiability through the use of evidence or observation

    • Idealist position was full of fantasy, mysticism, and self-deception

      • Called for explanations based on the operation of an unobservable entity called the mind and required empathetic leaps into the heads of historical actors.

      • All depended on faith, not science


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IDEALIST RESPONSE

  • Insisted that they possessed methodological integrity, claiming that their approach, if done prudently and rigorously, did allow for verifiable insights into the workings of the mind

    • Through the correct use of documentary evidence, the historian could make legitimate inferences

  • Regarded the role of active, critical thought about the past as significant

    • The only way to bring life into the past

  • Had no use for the positivist emphasis upon the need for generalization


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