This paper examines how Hayden White and specifically Frank Ankersmit have attempted to develop the representationalist account of historiography. It is notable that both reject the copy theory of representation, but nevertheless commit to the idea that historiography produces representations. I argue that it would have been more advantageous to go yet one step further and reject representationalist language altogether on the level of narratives, as this implies that one is re-presenting a given object in one’s language in some sense. Narratives and other synthesizing expressions, such as colligatory notions, do not have such objects or references in the past itself, and therefore, it would be more appropriate to talk about constructed ‘presentations.’ In the end, I outline a non-representationalist alternative, according to which historiography is a form of discursive and argumentative practice.
There are a large number of disciplines that are interested in the theoretical aspects of the history of thought. Their perspectives and subjects may vary, but fundamentally they have a common research interest: the history of human thinking and its products. Despite this, they are studied in relative isolation. I argue that having different subjects as specific objects of research, such as political or scientific thinking, is not a valid justification for the separation. I propose the formation of a new integrated field of study, the philosophy of the history of thought. Its most fundamental questions can be taken to be: 1) What is the basic theoretical unit in the history of thought? 2) How does change take place and how can it be described? 3) What kind of reasons are there for change? Why is there a change in a particular case? The existing confusions around the commitments and basic vocabulary used in contemporary historiography makes the establishment of this field important. Recognizing that there is such a discipline is necessary in order to enable concentration on the fundamental theoretical issues. It is likely that progress on theoretical questions and better awareness of the implicit commitments would have a positive impact on historical practice.
This essay is a response to four reviewers of my book Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography and to one detailed assessment of holism as studied in the book. I will focus on the following themes discussed by the reviewers: the debt to narrativism, representation and aboutness, truth, holism, internalism and externalism, argument, narrativity and rational pragmatism. In light of their critiques, I attempt to develop my non-representationalist account of historiography and move deeper into rational pragmatism.