Knowledge of the Past
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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.
KeywordsDirect Observation Historical Statement Past Action Documentary Evidence Historical Knowledge
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