The Soul of Historiography

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 University of Oulu

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Abstract

This paper argues for a new version of holism about historiography. The argument starts with an analogy with Aristotle’s conceptions of soul and character. The aim is to overcome the central problem critics have identified in Ankersmit’s holism about historical representations: it is not clear how a posited holistic entity can make a difference to a work of history. The solution offered in this paper is that there are two – modally distinct – dimensions of content in works of history. One comprises its explicit content as given in its statements. This corresponds to actuality, action, and narrative in Aristotle. The other is where we find a holistic entity: a work of history’s representation of a historical situation. This is analysed here as a unified range of possibilities for action generated by the interrelated complex of factors introduced by the work’s explicit contents. This corresponds to potentiality, soul, and character in Aristotle. The theory is further developed in relation to two examples, one idealized, the other an example of real historiography. By distinguishing between actuality and possibility as dimensions of a historical representation, the holistic entity is enabled to be implicit while having real importance in relation to the content of historiography.