The Past Within Us

The Past Within Us: An Empirical Approach to Philosophy of History

RAYMOND MARTIN
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 178
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztk10
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    The Past Within Us
    Book Description:

    Why do we interpret the past as we do, rather than in some other way or not at all? What is the significance of the fact that we interpret the past? What are historical interpretations? Raymond Martin's approach to these questions transcends both the positivist and humanistic perspectives that have polarized Anglo-American philosophy of history. Martin goes to the source of this polarization by diagnosing a deep-seated flaw in the dominant analytic approach during the period from 1935 to 1975, namely, the emphasis on conceptual analysis rather than the examination of actual historical controversies. As an alternative, Martin proposes an empirical approach that examines what makes one historical interpretation better than its competitors.

    In addressing how historians should decide which explanations are better, Martin opts for a case-by-case analysis of historiographical practice as opposed to establishing general criteria. His book offers several detailed case studies, involving such topics as the collapse of Lowland Maya civilization in the ninth century A.D., the fall of Rome, and the alleged historical priority of St. Mark's gospel over the other synoptic gospels.

    Originally published in 1989.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6049-4
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Chapter 1 TWO APPROACHES TO PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY
    (pp. 3-15)

    Our past, it seems, is behind us: fixed, stable, and secure. Our future is not fixed, but open. We can know our past, but we can only speculate about our future. Our present, neither stable nor secure, constantly and swiftly recedes into the past. Only by interpreting the past, and then viewing the present through the lens of this interpretation, can we locate ourselves in a stable world. If we cannot know what we will be, and cannot directly interpret who we are, at least, it seems, we can know what we have been. And in knowing what we have...

  6. Chapter 2 POSITIVISM AND ITS CRITICS: THE COMMON ASSUMPTIONS
    (pp. 16-29)

    Carl hempel’s classic paper, “The Function of General Laws in History,” published in 1942, launched a debate that lasted over thirty years. During this time philosophy of history became virtually a one-issue field. That issue was historical explanation. There was more written on historical explanation during this period than in all previous history. Unfortunately, the energy invested in this debate paid few dividends for philosophy of history. Historical explanation was not explored primarily on its own terms, by looking at actual historical explanations, but rather by way of debating the merits of the positivist theory of historical explanation. And this...

  7. Chapter 3 EXPLANATORY COMPETITION
    (pp. 30-52)

    The problem of explaining the collapse in the ninth century A.D. of the Classic Period Lowland Maya civilization is among the most celebrated puzzles of archaeology. In the present chapter, I want to use the controversy over how to solve this problem to begin the process of explaining how historians—including archaeologists as well as historians proper—defend their explanations.

    It may seem to those familiar with the voluminous literature on historical explanation that philosophers have already described the strategies historians employ to defend their explanations. They have not.¹ The main reason for this is that philosophers giving an account...

  8. Chapter 4 CAUSAL WEIGHTING
    (pp. 53-84)

    According to E. H. Carr, “Every historical argument revolves around the question of the priority of causes.”¹ Carr’s remark is an overstatement, but not by much. Judgments that assign relative importance to causes—henceforth called “weighted explanations”—are at the center of historical controversy. And ambiguities about what they mean and how they should be defended are often major obstacles to the resolution of historical disagreement.

    It might seem, then, that the problem of clarifying weighted explanations and of explaining how they should be defended must be a high priority among methodologically-minded historians. It has not been. Although many historians...

  9. Chapter 5 CONCEPTUAL AND EMPIRICAL SUBJECTIVISM
    (pp. 85-104)

    It is ironic that in this century it has tended to be historians who have attacked the objectivity of historical studies and philosophers who have defended it. The historians have argued that historical studies are and always have been subjective, the philosophers that historical studies could in principle be objective.

    The debate that first attracted the interest of analytic philosophers was begun by the historians Becker and Beard, who argued that historical studies inescapably are and ought to be done in a way that involves interpretation and conjecture on the part of the historian. Any other approach, they claimed, would...

  10. Chapter 6 MODEST EMPIRICAL SUBJECTIVISM
    (pp. 105-126)

    The idea that a good historian often can assess the relative likelihood of competing historical claims more reliably on implicit grounds—intuitively, if you like—than in any other available way has been a persistent theme ofVerstehen-theorists. It is, in essence, the old saw that there is no substitute for the brewmaster’s nose, adapted to the art of producing historical brew. If true, it augments the importance of the historian relative to his arguments, and thereby gives him a dignity he might otherwise lack. Some have thought that it marks an important methodological difference between historical studies and the...

  11. APPENDIX: HISTORICAL COUNTEREXAMPLES
    (pp. 127-140)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 141-152)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 153-160)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 161-163)