Was Emily Brown American Empress in Korea?

The Limits and Meaning of Historical Inquiry as Seen Through Inferential Contextualism

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 Department of History Education, Korea University, 145, Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, South Korea

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Abstract

This paper investigates the limits and meaning of historical inquiry in light of inferential contextualism that holds as its central tenet that the epistemic status of a proposition depends on the context of the subject. Historical inquiry, the discussion will show, is an epistemic practice that operates under the reliabilist presupposition that beliefs formed through the processes, whose pragmatic utility has been already proven in problem solving situations, may be taken to be rationally justified.

As for the limits of historical inquiry, it will be pointed out that the practice is unable to achieve independent criteria for determining if the belief it produces correctly reflects the thing in reality it purports to be about and thus correspondence between the former and the latter cannot be established. Furthermore, beliefs formed by historical inquiry cannot be rendered verifiable even through a future-oriented pragmatic theory of truth because it inquires into what happened in the past, not what is to happen in the future.

Despite the fact that we cannot tell the truth about the past in any certain and direct way, it is, the paper will conclude, still epistemically meaningful to distinguish justified from unjustified beliefs in history because historical inquiry is so closely connected with everyday epistemic practice through sharing pragmatically sustained processes that the former cannot be discarded without giving up the principles of the latter. There lies the meaning of historical inquiry.