Jonas Ahlskog
Åbo Akademi University (PhD)
Giuseppina D'Oro
Keele University
This paper examines narrativism’s claim that the historical past cannot be known once and for all because it must be continuously re-described from the standpoint of the present. We argue that this claim is based on a non sequitur. We take narrativism’s claim that the past must be re-described continuously from the perspective of the present to be the result of the following train of thought: 1) “all knowledge is conceptually mediated”; 2) “the conceptual framework through which knowledge of reality is mediated changes with every new generation of historians”; therefore (narrativism’s claim) “the historical past changes with every new generation of historians”. The idea of an unchanging past, for the narrativist, requires denying premise 1 (all knowledge is conceptually mediated”) and therefore rests on a problematic commitment to the chimerical notion of the past as it is in-itself, wie es eigentlich gewesen. We argue that the narrativist’s conclusion does not follow unless one adds a further premise, namely 3) “it is not possible to view reality through the categorial framework of historical agents”. If one asserts the possibility of grasping reality through the categorial framework of others, be they contemporary or past agents (as much philosophy of history written in an idealist key does), then one no longer has to accept the narrativist’s inference that since the past cannot be known in-itself or independently of conceptual mediation, then it cannot be known as it always was for the historical agents. Narrativism’s inference that the past cannot be known as it always was does not follow from premises 1 and 2 unless one smuggles in another problematic premise, premise 3. In this paper we defend the claim that the past can be known as it always was (not as it is in-itself) by invoking a different conception of the role of conceptual mediation in historical knowledge, one which assumes the possibility of viewing reality through the categorial framework of others. This notion of the role of conceptual mediation in historical knowledge is prevalent in the idealist tradition but, in the interest of brevity, we will defend this notion of mediacy by specific reference to the idealist philosophy of R.G. Collingwood.
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