Weak Historicism: On Hierarchies of Intellectual Virtues and Goods

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Herman Paul Department of History, Leiden University the Netherlands

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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.

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