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Problems in historical construction : an idealist approach

Rogerson, Paul (1990) Problems in historical construction : an idealist approach. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

An idealist approach to history construes what historians do in terms of coherence, unity and individuality. An outline of the historical thought of Dilthey and Croce in chapter one signposts the major concerns of Collingwood and Oakeshott. Both approach history from an idealist perspective yet, their conclusions differ radically for Collingwood the historian re-thinks the thoughts of past individuals, inferred from evidence, in answer to a question. The object of historical thought is not dead actions but living thoughts. The limits of historical thought reflect the boundaries of our mental faculties, and the identity of subject and object in historical re- enactment becomes the model for all genuine knowledge. Oakeshott rejects this identity. History is a particular understanding of objects left-over from the past, governed by organising postulates, and logically distinct from other "modes" of understanding. It has no privileged subject-matter, neither a real past of events, nor an every-increasing archive of authenticated evidence. The past is constructed within historical thought. Chapters four and five are spent tracing the implications of an idealist understanding of history. I argue that analytical philosophy's interest in explanation and truth in history is never "second- order", there is always a prior idea of what it is that historians try or fail to explain and make true statements about. I pay particular attention to those thinkers who have accepted, rejected or modified the idea that history is something constructed and not transcribed, and to the fragile border between description and prescription in the philosophy of history. An idealist critique of the realist assumption inherent in history urges, a re-think about the nature of historiographical conclusions and defences of history's legitimacy. It is not an invitation to scepticism. The attempt, however, to ground the autonomy of history upon a priori postulates and so secure its role in our self-understanding cannot be sustained.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > History (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.504464
Depositing User: EThOS Import Sheffield
Date Deposited: 28 May 2014 13:33
Last Modified: 28 May 2014 13:33
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/6126

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