Knowledge of the Past

Part of the Modern Introductions to Philosophy book series (MIP)


The question to be discussed in the present chapter is whether it is right to suppose, as all but a few philosophers unquestioningly do, that historical statements are generally meaningful and not infrequently known to be true. (Historical statements are, of course, only a subset of statements about the past, but many of the problems which concern the former relate to the latter too — our concern is more with puzzles deriving from pastness generally than from historicity specifically.) In what follows I shall discuss, in differing degrees of detail: the ‘direct observation paradigm’, i.e. the idea that direct observation is the only secure foundation for knowledge; scepticism about the ‘existence’ of the past and its implications for the practice of history; the similarities and differences between knowledge of the past and knowledge of the future; such special difficulties as there may be in the way of knowing about past actions; truth and probability in history.


Direct Observation Historical Statement Past Action Documentary Evidence Historical Knowledge 
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© R. F. Atkinson 1978

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