When Are We Speculating on History? A Mandelbaumian Theory

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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This paper is a classic critique of speculative philosophies of history based on Maurice Mandelbaum’s work. Unlike the more famous invective by Karl Popper, I argue that Mandelbaum’s is a richer and more interesting approach, which reveals through exposition a deeper unity to Mandelbaum’s work than is normally evident. Because Popper’s nominalism is suspicious of all metaphysics, it loses credibility whereas Mandelbaum placed reflection on the nature of society and causality at the center of his interests. Mandelbaum’s critique then is an invitation to investigate metaphysics on realist principles and he requires that we have a robust theory of historical ontology and truth with which to judge what goes beyond the proper representation of history and becomes speculative.

When Are We Speculating on History? A Mandelbaumian Theory

in Journal of the Philosophy of History



  • 1)

    Arthur DantoNarrative and Knowledge (New York: Columbia University Press1985) x.

  • 2)

    Donald R. KelleyFrontiers of History: Historical Inquiry in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale2006) 205.

  • 5)

    Karl PopperThe Poverty of Historicism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul1957); cf. Pieter Geyl in Geyl Arnold J Toynbee Pitirim A Sorokin The Pattern of the Past: Can We Determine It? (Boston Beacon Press 1949).

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  • 6)

    See Francis FukuyamaThe End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press1992). For allied developments in cultural history see Arthur Danto “The End of Art” in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York 1986); “Narratives of the End of Art” in Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present (New York 1990); and now Danto and His Critics: Art History Historiography and After the End of Art ed. David Carrier History and Theory 37 (1998) whole issued no. 4. For an incisive critique of Danto see Joseph Margolis “The Endless Future of Art” in Arto Haapala Jerrold Levinson and Veikko Rentala (eds.) The End of Art and Beyond: Essays after Danto (Atlantic Highlands NJ 1997) pp. 2–26.

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  • 7)

    See Christopher Lloyd“Globalization: Beyond the Ultra-Modernist Narrative to a Critical Realist Perspective on Geopolitics in the Cyber Age,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24 (2000): 258–273.

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  • 8)

    Ewa Demanska“Hayden White: Beyond Irony,” History and Theory 37 (1998): 173–181.

  • 9)

    Jean-Francois LyotardThe Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press1983); Richard Rorty The Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1982).

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  • 10)

    Brook Thomas“The New Historicism and Other Old Fashioned Notions,” in The New Historicismed. H Aram Veeser (New York 1989); cf. J. Rüsen “Historische Aufklãrung im Angesicht der Post-Moderne: Geschichte im Zeitalter der ‘neuen Unübersichtlichkeit” in Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Hrsgb. Streitfall deutsche Geschichte (Essen 1988).

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  • 12)

    Maurice MandelbaumThe Problem of Historical Relativism (New York: Liveright1938); Maurice Mandelbaum “A Critique of Philosophies of History” Journal of Philosophy (1948) 365–78. In the latter article Mandelbaum gave the following definition: “a philosophy of history is any interpretation of history which purports to derive from a consideration of man’s past a single concept or principle which in itself is sufficient to explain the ultimate direction of historical change at every point in the historical process. Thus any philosophy of history consists in the formulation of a law of historical change which explains the direction of flow of concrete events.”

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  • 13)

    Maurice Mandelbaum“Some Neglected Philosophic Problems Regarding History,” Journal of Philosophy 49 (1952) p. 320; reprinted in Mandelbaum Philosophy History and the Sciences (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1984). In his critique of Hayden White’s Metahistory he returned to this definition indicating that for him it was definitive; cf. “The Presuppositions of Hayden White’s Metahistory.”

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  • 14)

    Carl Page“Speculation and the Metaphysics of History,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 17 (1993): 175–190.

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    Page“Speculation and the Metaphysics of History” 176.

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    Page“Speculation and the Metaphysics of History” 178.

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    MandelbaumThe Problem of Historican Knowledge9.

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    Maurice Mandelbaum“Societal Laws,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Sciences 8 (1957) 211–24; reprinted in Mandelbaum Philosophy History and the Sciences (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1984); cf. John Passmore “The Poverty of Historicism RevisitedHistory and Theory 14 (1975): 30–47; Christopher Lloyd “Realism and Structurism in Historical Theory: a Discussion of the Thought of Maurice Mandelbaum” History and Theory 28 (1989) 296–325.

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  • 23)

    James Woodward“Developmental Explanations,” Synthese 44 (1980): 443–466.

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    MandelbaumHistory Man and Reason p. 53.

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    Mandelbaum“Historical Explanation: The Problem of Covering Laws,” History and Theory 1 (1961): 229–42; The Anatomy of Historical Knowledge; Peter Manicas A History and Theory of the Social Sciences (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987) 113–115; A Realist Philosophy of Social Science: Explanation and Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006); Christopher Lloyd The Structures of History (Oxford: Blackwell 1993) 145.

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  • 26)

    Douglas PorporaHow Holocausts Happen: The United States in Central America (Philadelphia: Temple University1990).

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    MandelbaumThe Anatomy of Historical Knowledge193.

  • 28)

    See further MandelbaumPurpose and Necessity in Social Theory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press1987).

  • 32)

    For examples see Fred SpierThe Structure of Big History From the Big Bang until Today (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press1996); David Christian Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press 2004) and Cynthia Brown Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present (New York: The New Press 2007).

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  • 33)

    The division made by Allan Megill“Narrative and the Four Tasks of History Writing,” Historical Knowledge Historical Error: a Contemporary Guide to Practiceis almost the same except that “Interpretative” history is defined differently.

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  • 34)

    James Connelly“A Time for Progress?” History and Theory 43 (2004) 410–422.

  • 35)

    Mandelbaum“A Note on History as Narrative,” History and Theory 6 (1967): 414.

  • 37)

    Sidney DekkerThe Field Guide to Human Error Investigation (Bedford: Cranfield University Press2002); cf. Gerd Gigerenzer Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World (New York: Oxford University Press 2000).

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  • 38)

    Samuel HuntingtonClash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster1996).

  • 39)

    Eelco Runia“Presence,” History and Theory 45 (February 2006) 1–29.

  • 40)

    CallinicosTheories and Narratives p. 105.

  • 43)

    Maurice Mandelbaum“Historicism,” in Encyclopedia of Philosophyed. Paul Edwards (New York 1967 p. 24). A nearly identical definition is given in History Man and Reason p. 42. For uses of Mandelbaum’s definition see Alan Megill “Foucault Structuralism and the Ends of History” Journal of Modern History 51 (1979) 451–503.

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  • 44)

    Frank Ankersmit“Historicism: An Attempt at Synthesis,” History and Theory 34 (1995): 143–161.

  • 46)

    MandelbaumHistory Man and Reason: A Study in Nineteenth Century Thought (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press1971).

  • 50)

    Michael André BernsteinForegone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History (Berkeley: University of California Press1994).

  • 51)

    Maurice Mandelbaum“Some Forms and Uses of Comparative History,” American Studies International 18 (1980) 19–34: reprinted in Mandelbaum Philosophy History and the Sciences: Critical Essays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1984).

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  • 52)

    Beck in Timothy Duggan“Maurice Mandelbaum 1908–1987,” American Philosophical Association Proceedings 60 (1987): 859.

  • 57)

    D. L. Hull“Central subjects and historical narratives,” History and Theory 14 (1975): 253–274. Hull’s arguments have been put to good use by Jonathan Gilmore (The Life of a Style: Beginnings and Endings in the Narrative History of Art Ithaca: Cornell 2000) who extends Hull’s ideas to art thus making a further naturalizing leap.

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