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Intellectual History, Inferentialism, and the Weimar Origins of Political Theory

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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The dilemma of presentism is sometimes represented as a choice between the increased relevance and utility of a historiographic practice that can articulate its relation to the present and the increased objectivity or openness to the otherness of the past of a historiographic practice that articulates the past “on its own terms.” The present article argues that, at least with reference to intellectual history, we should understand that ideas appear most fully when they are run through a multitude of contexts and not rooted exclusively in circumstances contemporaneous to either the original emergence of an idea or the writer and first reader of the historical account. The following thesis is advanced: ideas appear only over time, and the contextualization, decontextualization, and recontextualization of ideas in different places and times are all essential to such intellectual historical “appearance.” The article then articulates its position more precisely by means of Robert Brandom’s inferentialism. And, finally, this line of inquiry is exemplified and interrogated by means of a concrete historiographic case—namely, a political theoretical investigation of the intellectual legacy of the Weimar Republic.

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