Selection, presentism, and pluralist history

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 92 (C):60-70 (2022)
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Despite a growing body of literature that attempts to draw a line between legitimate and illegitimate forms of presentism in academic history, ‘avoid presentism’ is still often preached as the first rule of historiography. Distinct from other forms of presentism is selective presentism – the practice of taking some present-day activity, event, idea, or problem as a starting point in our selection of historical facts. Throughout the paper I examine the relation of some of the most popular selection criteria – selection by actor intentionality, selection by later effect, and selection by problem – to presentist practices and draw three conclusions. First, each of these selection criteria can produce presentist or non-presentist histories depending on the past of which specific activity, idea, or problem the historian is interested in. Second, the historiographic legitimacy of these selection criteria is independent from their presentist or non-presentist applications; importantly, selective presentism is not among the ‘bad’ forms of presentism and is not to be avoided. Finally, various selection criteria are best understood as complementary; pluralist history invites a variety of selection criteria that help shed light on different aspects of the past, and thus – collectively – enrich our understanding of it.



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Hakob Barseghyan
University of Toronto, St. George

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Presentist History for Pluralist Science.Hasok Chang - 2020 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 52 (1):97-114.
Getting the Game Right: Some Plain Words on The Identity and Invention of Science.Andrew Cunningham - 1988 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 19 (3):365.

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