The Practical Turn: a Pragmatist Philosophy of History

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    Abstract

    In 1938, the heyday of fascism and nazism, the historian, philosopher and dissident politician Benedetto Croce, published La storia come pensiero e come azione. It was a cri de coeur. Deeply convinced that reality is ‘nothing but history’, Croce believed that historical thinking is the only way of coming to grips with our world. Croce shared this belief with a whole generation of philosophers of history such as Rickert, Weber, Meinecke, Troeltsch, Collingwood, Oakeshott, Becker, Aron, Gentile, and Ortega y Gasset. ‘History as thought and action’ was the credo of the golden age of the philosophy of history. Seventy- five years later, this credo has become an idle dream. After the war, philosophers of history kept aloof from what they considered as grandiloquent aspirations of the previous generation. Focusing on detailed analyses of historical explanation, description, and narrative, they gradually lost sight of the relationship between historical theory and practice. As a result of this, philosophy of history has become a fragmented field of study in which experts are no longer able to explain the practical relevance of their inquiries. This paper seeks to overcome the impasse by reinterpreting the relationship between historical experience and historical writing from a pragmatist point of view. Starting from Ankersmit’s notion of sublime historical experience, it shows how experience of the past leads to historical inquiries which are conducted in a practical context. On this basis, the paper makes the radical claim that historical representations are not only proposals to see the past from a certain perspective, but also offer new perspectives on the future. Next, the paper elaborates the practical implications of this claim for the notions of meaning, truth and reference in historical writing. Finally, it will be shown how the scattered fields of explanation, narrative and historical experience can be related into a new unity which not only vindicates the tradition of history as thought and action, but also the practical relevance of history for life.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    EventThe Future of the Theory and Philosophy of History: Inaugural Conference of the International Network for Theory of History - Universiteit Gent, Ghent
    Duration: 10-Jul-201313-Jul-2013
    http://www.inth.ugent.be/conferences/conference-2/

    Conference

    ConferenceThe Future of the Theory and Philosophy of History
    Abbreviated titleConference INTH
    CityGhent
    Period10/07/201313/07/2013
    Internet address

    Keywords

    • Philosophy of history
    • Pragmatism

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