From Narrativism to Pragmatism

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Brian Fay Department of Philosophy (Emeritus), Wesleyan University

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Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen’s Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography is a major work in the philosophy of history, one that seeks to conceive historiographies not as concerned to represent (“re-present”) the past but rather to propose ways of regarding it. To do this requires replacing narrative as the key element in the philosophy of history with the idea that historiographies are informal arguments that propose and defend a thesis about how events or entities of the past should be viewed. This re-orientation in how to view historiography makes it possible to see it as a rational enterprise in which its claims and counterclaims can be rationally assessed. The book is remarkably successful in achieving its goal, but along the way it neglects to address new questions about narrative as a form of argument, and in the end lacks full faith in its pragmatist heart by insisting that standards of rationality are universal and merely given rather than discipline—and culturally—specific, hard won achievements accomplished by historians themselves.

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