Weak Historicism: On Hierarchies of Intellectual Virtues and Goods

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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This article seeks to reconcile a historicist sensitivity to how intellectually virtuous behavior is shaped by historical contexts with a non-relativist account of historical scholarship. To that end, it distinguishes between hierarchies of intellectual virtues and hierarchies of intellectual goods. The first hierarchy rejects a one-size-fits-all model of historical virtuousness in favor of a model that allows for significant varieties between the relative weight that historians must assign to intellectual virtues in order to acquire justified historical understanding. It grounds such differences, not on the historians’ interests or preferences, but on their historiographical situations, so that hierarchies of virtues are a function of the demands that historiographical situations (defined as interplays of genre, research question, and state of scholarship) make upon historians. Likewise, the second hierarchy allows for the pursuit of various intellectual goods, but banishes the specter of relativism by treating historical understanding as an intellectual good that is constitutive of historical scholarship and therefore deserves priority over alternative goods. The position that emerges from this is classified as a form of weak historicism.

Weak Historicism: On Hierarchies of Intellectual Virtues and Goods

in Journal of the Philosophy of History




Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay WoodIntellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology (Oxford: Clarendon Press2007) p. 8. Linda Zagzebski makes a similar point in her “Recovering Understanding” in Matthias Steup (ed.) Knowledge Truth and Duty: Essays on Epistemic Justification Responsibility and Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001) pp. 235–251. See also Wayne D. Riggs “Understanding ‘Virtue’ and the Virtue of Understanding” in Michael DePaul and Linda Zagzebski (eds.) Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives from Ethics and Epistemology (Oxford: Clarendon Press 2003) pp. 203–226; Jonathan L. Kvanvig The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003) pp. 185–203.


Herman Paul“Performing History: How Historical Scholarship is Shaped by Epistemic Virtues”History and Theory50 (2011) 1–19.


Alvin PlantingaWarrant: The Current Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press1993) p. 4.


Mark DayThe Philosophy of History: An Introduction (London; New York: Continuum2008) p. 42.


F.-H. Mutschler“Sima Qian and His Western Colleagues: On Possible Categories of Description”History and Theory46 (2007) 197.


Adriaan H. B. BeukelaarHistoriography and Episcopal Authority in Sixth-Century Gaul: The Histories of Gregory of Tours Interpreted in their Historical Context (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1994) pp. 52–54.


Mark BevirThe Logic of the History of Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1999) pp. 106–124.


Stephen W. DurrantThe Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press1995) p. 27.


Quoted in Lionel GossmanBasel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press2000) p. 272.


Graham SwiftWaterland (London: William Heinemann1983). Thanks to Madeleine Kasten for urging me to read this wonderful novel.


Carl PagePhilosophical Historicism and the Betrayal of First Philosophy (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press1995) pp. xi 3.


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