History and Theory 39 (1):39–66 (2000)

Debates between historians show that they expect descriptions of past people and events, and interpretations of historical subjects, and genetic explanations of historical changes, to be fair and not misleading. Sometimes unfair accounts of the past are the result of historians' bias, of their preferring one account over others because it accords with their interests. It is useful to distinguish history which is misleading by accident from that which is the result of personal bias; and to distinguish personal bias from cultural bias and general cultural relativity.This paper explains what fair descriptions, interpretations, and explanations are like in order to clarify the senses in which they can be biased. It then explains why bias is deplorable, and after noting those who regard it as more or less inevitable, considers how personal bias can be avoided. It argues that it is not detachment that is needed, but commitment to standards of rational inquiry.Some might think that rational standards of inquiry will not be enough to avoid bias if the evidence available to the historian is itself biased. In fact historians often allow for bias in evidence, and even explain it when reconstructing what happened in the past.The paper concludes by noting that although personal bias can be largely avoided, cultural bias is not so easy to detect or correct
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/0018-2656.00112
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,410
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Hayden White's Appeal to the Historians.F. R. Ankersmit - 1998 - History and Theory 37 (2):182–193.
The Origins of Postmodernist Historiography.Frank R. Ankersmit - 1994 - Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 41:87-117.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The “Bias” Bias in Social Psychology: Adaptive When and How?James Friedrich - 2004 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (3):335-336.
What Makes an Explanation.Rollin W. Workman - 1964 - Philosophy of Science 31 (3):241-254.
A Problem of Our Own Making: Roth on Historical Explanation.John H. Zammito - 2008 - Journal of the Philosophy of History 2 (2):244-249.
Unification, Explanation and Explaining Unity: The Fisher–Wright Controversy.Margaret Morrison - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (1):233-245.
The Interrogative Model: Historical Inquiry and Explanation.Eric Brook - 2007 - Journal of the Philosophy of History 1 (2):137-159.
Neuroscience and the Explanation of Psychological Phenomena.Antti Revonsuo - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (5):847-849.
Von Wright on Historical Causation1.Elazar Weinryb - 1974 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 17 (1-4):327-338.


Added to PP index

Total views
221 ( #52,193 of 2,519,856 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
6 ( #116,855 of 2,519,856 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes