Το πρόβλημα της ιστορικής γνώσεως

 

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Το πρόβλημα της ιστορικής γνώσεως

Βώρος, Φ. Κ.

It is the intention of the author of this article to consider the possibility and the limits of historical knowledge. The question raised can in short be stated as follows: assuming that historical statements involve multiple use of axiological judgments (selection of material, acceptance of its authenticity and its truth, explanation as well as evaluation of its content), assuming all this, is it possible to write objective history or – in other words – to reach objective historical knowledge? This problem in a very practical form has reasonably occupied the minds of all outstanding historians (among them Thucydides is a very notable case) in their search for historical truth and presentation of what actually happened. But the problem of historical truth as such has been attracting the attention of philosophers with increasing intensity from last century and has become a central problem of the Philosophy of History nowadays. A difficulty for those who have faced the problem in question arose from the fact that traditional epistemology from which they started had primarily relied on examples drawn from mathematics and physics (which make use of deduction and induction; history, on the contrary, is usually restricted to reasoning by analogy; as a result, prediction of future events is difficult if not impossible, although predictability would be attractive in history, since it has become a decisive criterion in other fields of knowledge). This article discusses the problem outline above under the following four headings: 1. History of the problem (of historical knowledge) and dimensions of it. Of the questions arising from the study of history philosophers are mainly concerned with the following ones: What is the nature of a historical fact? How can it be known? What is the nature of historical explanation? Is it possible to state historical laws? Which are the consequences if historians use axiological judgments? Reasons are adduced for claiming that historical knowledge is a knowledge sui generis due to the pastness and uniqueness of events engineered by human beings. 2. Clarification of certain terms. Firstly, a distinction between history as actuality and history as knowledge is made; the notions of historical fact and of pastness elucidated; it is also noted that the role of memory is not more important in history than in other fields of knowledge. The conclusion comes that historical knowledge is derived not only from memory but also from contemporary experience and reasoning. 3. Reasons given for the subjectivity of historical knowledge. Subjectivity in this field may have its fons et origo both in the testimonies of the past and the outlook of the historian himself; both, knowingly or unknowingly, the historian may be subject to personal beliefs and prejudices it is for these and similar reasons that Sociology of knowledge has arrived at the conclusion that not only veritas but also virtus est filia temporis. Is there any way to escape these «conditioning» factors and attain objective historical knowledge? 4. In search of foundations of objectivity. a. The fundamental motives of human actions (both of individuals and of groups) as assumed by Thucydides have remained unchanged throughout the centuries of human history. The axiom «is fecit qui prodest» is accepted as valid for the historical explanation irrespective of the changing historical situations. b. Human actions are seen to be in a strict correspondence to human needs (the driving forces of historical development). The widely accepted distinction between natural needs and ideological needs is adopted. c. It is further admitted that any explanation in history must: (1) agree with the testimony available, (2) present the explanandum within its historical context, and (3) not make assumptions unacceptable to the contemporary human experience. d. Finally, the historian, it is suggested, ought to strive always to keep his mind open to experiences differing from his own and «audire alteram partem» in order to avoid prejudices, onesidedness, «group unconscious» as well as ideological dogmatism. Even if he grasps merely a part of the historical past, this limitation does not imply that his knowledge may not be well founded; it must be seen as a part of a whole; perhaps it is a task of the historian to select that particular part out of the treasure of the historical experience of mankind which, from his viewpoint, appears to be most conducive to casting light on pressing problems of his own day, provided that he always does strive to find and present the truth.

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Συστηματική Φιλοσοφία


1975-1976

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