This is an attempt to discover and clarify the philosophical nature of what Eelco Runia claims to be his new and up-to-date philosophy of history, a programme offered in his 2014 book Moved by the Past: Discontinuity and Historical Mutation. His suggestion that his argument is a “dance” is taken seriously, and following an analysis of historical “meaning” and its time-extended nature it is argued that the book’s presentation commits Runia to a conception of meaning that requires more weight than he allows to the centrality of narrative understanding in history. His attempt to reconnect critical and substantive philosophies of history is analysed and criticised. His apparently inconsistent commitments to both Vico’s verum-factum claim, where we can make history, and to Gumbrecht’s “presence”, where history can make us, is clarified in terms of a pragmatic philosophy that permits Runia to have the psychology-based approach that he relies upon.
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.