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


Many strands are tangled in the problems of objectivity in history. One worry is whether historical statements can be meaningful and sometimes true. This, which we tried to dissipate in the previous chapter, is actually the primary one for Meiland (chs iv and v) and Goldstein (ch. iv) — a judgement which reflects their fear that there may be no accessible past which historical statements can be known to refer to. But, even if it be agreed that statements about the past can be established, this is insufficient to show that sequences of such statements — narratives or other extended pieces of historical writing — are objective too. Manifestly it is impossible to write down all the true statements there are, even about a narrowly defined topic. Selection is inevitable, and with the recognition of this comes the possibility of new sorts of doubt about objectivity. How can selection be other than arbitrary and subjective? This question obtrudes itself at the descriptive let alone the interpretative or explanatory level: there can be no sequence of statements that is both historical and so low down the descriptive-explanatory scale that the necessity for selection does not arise. As one moves up the scale, moreover, new questions about objectivity arise. Notoriously, different historians offer what are apparently irreducibly different interpretations of near enough the same facts; interpretations, that is, between which it seems impossible to choose on so simple a basis as that one is founded on truth and the other on error, from which. it is often inferred that any choice must be arbitrary or subjective.


Moral Judgement External Reality Philosophical View History Book Moral Difference 
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© R. F. Atkinson 1978

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