Possible Worlds of History

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Ilkka Lähteenmäki Centre for Philosophical Studies of History History of Science and Ideas, University of Oulu Finland

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The theory of possible worlds has been minimally employed in the field of theory and philosophy of history, even though it has found a place as a tool in other areas of philosophy. Discussion has mostly focused on arguments concerning counterfactual history’s status as either useful or harmful. The theory of possible worlds can, however be used also to analyze historical writing. The concept of textual possible worlds offers an interesting framework to work with for analyzing a historical text’s characteristics and features. However, one of the challenges is that the literary theory’s notion of possible worlds is that they are metaphorical in nature. This in itself is not problematic but while discussing about history, which arguably deals with the real world, the terminology can become muddled. The latest attempt to combine the literary and philosophical notions of possible worlds and apply it to historiography came from Lubomír Doležel in his Possible Worlds of Fiction and History: The Postmodern Stage (2010). I offer some criticism to his usage of possible worlds to separate history and fiction, and argue that when historiography is under discussion a more philosophical notion of possible worlds should be prioritized over the metaphorical interpretation of possible worlds.

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