Paul A. Roth and the Revival of Analytical Philosophy of History

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

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Krzysztof Brzechczyn’s important collection around Roth’s “revival” stimulates thought about the approaches adopted by analytical philosophers of history. Roth revives Danto’s 1965 pragmatic “constructivist” insights: in a narrative, earlier “events under a description” are described in terms of possibly unknowable later ones and, following Mink, in terms of possibly unknowable later concepts. Roth thinks of the resulting narrative explanation as justified in virtue of its constituting the object explained. However, earlier analytical philosophers of history faced different issues and adopted two different approaches: the positivist logical empiricist analysis used by Hempel (1942) and the nonpositivist “ordinary language” conceptual analysis of Oxford linguistic philosophers used by Dray (1957). Hempel’s Hume-sourced model of historical explanation set a scientific standard to be achieved, while Dray “tested” that analysis against historiographical practice. Both dubiously made “explanation” epistemologically central, as does Roth. Neither they nor later “narrativists” saw that more problematic was “compositionality”, the Hume-sourced view that the meanings of narratives were fully given by the meanings of their constituent sentences.

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