Discontinuity Pragmatically Framed

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast

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This is an attempt to discover and clarify the philosophical nature of what Eelco Runia claims to be his new and up-to-date philosophy of history, a programme offered in his 2014 book Moved by the Past: Discontinuity and Historical Mutation. His suggestion that his argument is a “dance” is taken seriously, and following an analysis of historical “meaning” and its time-extended nature it is argued that the book’s presentation commits Runia to a conception of meaning that requires more weight than he allows to the centrality of narrative understanding in history. His attempt to reconnect critical and substantive philosophies of history is analysed and criticised. His apparently inconsistent commitments to both Vico’s verum-factum claim, where we can make history, and to Gumbrecht’s “presence”, where history can make us, is clarified in terms of a pragmatic philosophy that permits Runia to have the psychology-based approach that he relies upon.

  • 1

    Eelco Runia, Moved by the Past: Discontinuity and Historical Mutation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). My thanks to Editor-in-Chief Frank Ankersmit, who told me to go back and try again.

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  • 2

    See, for example, Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962), Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences ([1966], London: Routledge, 1989), Joseph Agassi, “Continuity and discontinuity in the history of science”, Journal of the History of Ideas 34 (1973) 609–626 and Hélio Rebello Cardoso, Jr., “Peirce and Foucault on time and history”, History and Theory 55 (2016) 25–38.

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  • 6

    As W.H. Walsh remarked, “A writer on philosophy of history, in Great Britain at least, must begin by justifying the very existence of his subject,” An Introduction to Philosophy of History (London: Hutchinson, 1951) 11.

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  • 8

    In marked contrast to F.R. Ankersmit, History and Tropology: The Rise and Fall of Metaphor (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), a collection of mostly previously published papers wholly enlightened by the perspective of a new and substantial Introduction.

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  • 13

    J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (London: Oxford University Press, 1962) 8.

  • 15

    F.M. Cornford, Microcosmographia Academica (Cambridge: Bowes and Bowes, 1908) 14.

  • 16

    J.L. Gorman, “Objectivity and truth in history”, Inquiry 17 (1974) 373–397.

  • 17

    See Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015) 157–167.

  • 21

    Nancy Partner, “Hayden White: the form of the content”, History and Theory 37 (1998) 168.

  • 24

    W.H. Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History (London: Hutchinson, 1951) 24ff. See also Mink, ibid., 171ff, and Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015) chap. 6.

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  • 27

    W.B. Gallie, Philosophy and the Historical Understanding (London: Chatto & Windus, 1964); A.C. Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965); Morton G. White, Foundations of Historical Knowledge (New York: Harper and Row, 1965).

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  • 28

    Hayden V. White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973).

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  • 33

    R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (London: Oxford University Press, 1946) 92.

  • 39

    W.H. Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History (London: Hutchinson, 1951) 14.

  • 47

    Jonathan Gorman, Historical Judgement: The Limits of Historiographical Choice (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008; Stocksfield: Acumen Publishing, 2007).

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  • 53

    Walter Scott, The Abbot: Being a Sequel to the Monastery (London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, 1910), Introduction, xi. Runia discusses Scott’s Waverley in his chapter 3, “Presence”.

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  • 56

    William Dray, Laws and Explanation in History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957) 123.

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