Language and Historical Representation: Getting the Story Crooked (Rhetoric of the Human Sciences)

Rhetoric Of The Human Sciences: Language And Argument In Scholarship And Public Affairs
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Getting the Story Crooked. Hans Kellner Towards a Rational Historiography. Lionel Gossman The Inventions of History: Essays on the Representation of the Past. Stephen Bann Time's Reasons: Philosophies of History Old and New. Leonard Krieger Rethinking Intellectual History. Dominick LaCapra History and Criticism.

The "Annales Movement" and Its Historiography: Spring, , pp. Hoover The History Teacher, Vol. Peter Novick's That Noble Dream: When is Historiography Whiggish? The Structure of Mind in History: Wallace IV Review author[s]: This article contains high-quality images. How many of us have downgraded a student paper with the words, "This is mere description"? The critical judgment may well be sound, but the choice of language is unfortunate. One rightly criticizes a work of history for being mistaken or uninteresting, but there is no warrant for assuming that "description" is a lesser historiographical aim than explanation.

The assumption mistakes the character of historiography's contribution to knowledge; it rnisvalues narrative history in particular. The quality of a work is not adequately judged by its proportion of explanation to "mere description. These are of four intertwined kinds: It seems true by definition that every work of history embodies these aims.

Different works embody them in differing degrees. The argument I wish to make here is more theoretical than historical, even though I refer to empirical fact in articulating it. The aim is to counter.

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Braudel turned the historical setting and the divisions and subdivisions of that setting into a vast collection of characters. Trishwah added it Dec 01, Please direct all queries HERE. Conversely, much analysis proceeds in conventionally narrative form, following "chronologically sequential order": Philosophers of science in that generation were overwhelmingly concerned with "explanation," which they viewed as the answering of the "why" question.

I thank this Denkkotlektiv generally. Nelson, Nancy Partner, Hunter R. I investigate certain methodological contentions of Francois Furet. Furet and Braudel are used only as examples, for the intent is to go beyond the practice of specific historians to address some conceptual underpinnings of historiography generally. We should strive to be constrained neither by the particular "craft" exemplars that we admire whose very merit threatens to imprison us , nor by unexamined assumptions in our milieu, nor by restrictive philosophies of science, but only by the limits of inquiry itself.

This is why theory is important. The privileged place of explanation in our academic culture is most clearly manifested in the theoretical and methodological literatures. I use the term "explanation" not in the broad sense of "to elucidate" or "to make clear" but in the sense customary in philosophical and social science circles, where in most contexts "to explain" something means to say what caused it. To explain something in the terminology used here is to answer the question, "Why? Many announce explicitly their concern with explanation. Standard texts such as Arthur Stinchconibe's Constructing Social Theories are quite clear on this point.

For a fastidious refusal to use directly the terms "cause" and "effect" combined with a constant invocation of these very terms, see Carl G. Meehan, Explanation, in Social Science: A System Paradigm Homewood, An Emerging Paradigm Totowa, N. Methodology for Behavioral Science Scranton, Pa. LeBlanc, and Charles L. Redman, Explanation in Archaeology: On the explanatory function of social theories, see Arthur L. Philosophers of science in that generation were overwhelmingly concerned with "explanation," which they viewed as the answering of the "why" question. To what extent, in their talking and thinking about historiography, do practicing historians share the view that explanation is the historian's central task?

Eschewing a research survey of impossible subtlety, let us move instead by introspection, informed by several salient examples of the "bias for explanation. Forster's distinction between "story" and "plot. Using Forster's criterion, we can define a historian as a plot-teller. Unlike the chronicler, the historian tries to solve the mystery of why human events occurred in a particular time-sequence. His ultimate goal is to uncover and illuminate the motives of human beings acting in particular situations, and, thus, help men to understand themselves.

A historical account, therefore, necessarily takes this form: Carr's assertion in What Is History? Wissenschaftliche Erkldrung und Begriindung Berlin, , Such research, they suggested, has a preliminary status: One exceptional work, written from a neopositivist perspective, that does deal with description is C. A Reader Berkeley, Calif.

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A Second Look Berkeley, Calif. The Rhetoric of Anthropology," in John S. Nelson, Allan Megill , and Donald N. Selected Essays Philadelphia, , Forster, Aspects of the Novel New York, , 47, , and passim. Consider finally David Hackett Fischer's contention in Historians' Fallacies that "history-writing is not story-telling but problem solving" and that historical narration is "a form of explanation. If the historian-reader of this paper finds that he or she is in essential agreement with these three statements, I have established that the reader shares a bias for explanation. The statements by Benson and Carr assume that the essential connections in a historical account are causal.

The revealing of causal connections is what I and they define as explanation. Fischer's position is ambiguous, for his definition of explanation embraces elucidation generally, not just causal analysis. Nonetheless, his insistence that history is "not story-telling but problem solving" a notion also advanced by Furet seems to confirm the presence of an explanatory bias in my sense.

Insofar as they are numerous, readers who find no disagreement with these statements confirm the claim by the historian and theorist of history Paul Veyne that "[t]here is The bias for explanation in much contemporary thinking about knowledge needs itself to be historically understood. First, much of our thought about science is excessively influenced, even at this late date, by the history of Newtonian physics.

Earlier in our century, the philosophical school variously known as "logical empiricism" or "logical positivism"13 took an apparent fact about that history and converted it into a principle. Physical science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was marked by attempts to extend Newtonian theory to ever more phenomena. To show how yet another range of phenomena could be derived from Newton's laws was to give an explanation of them. The cutting edge of science, it seemed, was neither "descriptive" nor interpretive but explanatory.

The payoff in physics did not come in the ordering of phenomena into descriptive types, as it did in natural history. Nor did it come in finding new ways of conceiving the physical. Mina Moore- Rinvolucri orig. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer , 3 vols. Despite its slight inaccuracy, I shall use the more familiar term, "logical positivism," here.

Second, within the context of the human sciences, a striking feature of secular, modernist: It is a common trope of modernist inquiry that things more or less directly observable are not the "real" reality. The perspective of inquirer and audience has a crucial role in determining what will be regarded as insightful rather than as mistaken or simply irrelevant. Metaphors of verticality tend to grant a privilege to the explanatory project.

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David Hume's demonstration that we cannot observe causation underpins the view that explanation is tieferliegend deeper than description. These insights have an explanatory character, for they are answers to the question, "What caused it? The cutting edge in a given discipline at a particular time may well be found in explanation. But disciplines tend toward sclerotic self-satisfaction. Methodological rules articulated in one context. Hankins, Science and the Enlightenment Cambridge, , 9, , 53; J. Theoretical Physics from Ohm to Einstein, 2 vols. Chicago, , 1: On the classificatory impulse in natural history and elsewhere, see Hankins, Science and the Enlightenment, , , and passim; and Wolf Lepenies , Das Ende der Naturgescluchte: Wanclel hdtureller Selbstventandlichkeitcn in den Wissenschaften.

Jahrhunderts Munich, , New York, , See also Lionel Trilling on V. Essays on Literature and Society New York, , One social science methodologist noted that most, of Max Weber's "theories" are actually "conceptual schemes and descriptions of'historical types'" ack P. Gibbs, Sociological Theory Construction [Hinsdale, Interpretive frameworks all too often come to be seen as die Sac he selbst. Consider the bias for explanation as expressed in logical positivism.

Of course, logical positivism has long been dead within philosophy. Killed by its own contradictions, it has given way to various neo- and post-positivisms. In the first sentence of their widely cited paper, "Studies in the Logic of Explanation" , Carl Hempel and Paul Oppenheim declared: The scientific function involves not only identifying and describing temporal sequences; it also involves explaining them.

None of these authors denies that "description" is part of empirical science; such a denial would, of course, be anti-empirical. One is the prejudice for universality; the other is hermeneutic naivete , or the belief in immaculate perception. The prejudice for universality elevates explanation over "description" because in the logical positivist view "description" is tied to the merely particular, whereas explanation is seen as universalizable.

In the immediate background to logical. But a survey in May by J. Morgan Kousser suggests that an "informal positivism," of an early Popper vintage, remains prevalent among historians: A journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, 22 On the importance of this article, see Ronald N. Giere , Explaining Science: A Cognitive Approach Chicago, , Because they often confuse "general laws" with other kitids of generalizations, historians sometimes miss the full force of the idea that a field is scientific only if it produces general laws.

By "generalization," historians usually mean a broad statement that is nonetheless still tied to a particular historical context. In historians' language, the following invented statement counts as a generalization the question of whether or not the statement is correct does not concern us here: In " nomothetic " science, the desired generalizations transcend particular times and places, as in, for instance, this invented statement: The Windelbandian distinction between the particular and the general has often been equated with the distinction between "description" and explanation.

It is a rather widely held opinion that history, in contradistinction to the so-called physical sciences, is concerned with the description of particular events of the past rather than with the search for general laws which might govern those events. See also Georg G.

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Iggers , The German Conception of History: A Report of the Committee on Historical Analysis, ed. As can be seen, at the same moment that he rejected Windelband's identification of historiography as idiographic, Hempel linked "description" to the particular. He did not argue for the linkage, but we can easily reconstruct why he believed that it was part of a view that "probably can not be denied. The first has both a "what" and a "why" component. It is explanatory or, more precisely, it claims to be explanatory , for it offers an account of why the transition from feudalism to capitalism took place.

It is also "descriptive," for it says what was the case in late medieval and early modern Europe. But the second statement is different. It "describes" no reality. Rather, it states a set of hypotheses that are tied to no particular reality. Its relation is to concepts: Well, it is because whenever. Given the prejudice for universality, the result is a general elevation of explanation over "description. The prejudice has roots in Greek thought, in Plato and even more influentially for science in Aristotle.

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In his Metaphysics and elsewhere, Aristotle contended that knowledge of universals is the highest form of knowledge. Poetry has dropped out of the circle of universal knowledge, which is now restricted to mathematics, natural science, and social science insofar as it follows the natural science model thus projected. Jonathan Barnes, 2 vols. There is, let it be noted, another side to Aristotle, exemplified in the Ethics and Rhetoric, where emphasis lies on specific cases of moral judgment or of persuasion. But modernism looks with disfavor on the ethical-rhetorical strand. Ingram Bywater , ' , in Aristotle, "Rhetoric" and "Poetics.

Corbett New York, , Shils and Henry A. Miller, Fact and Method: Recently, the prejudice for universality has been challenged on many fronts. The interpretivist strand has already been mentioned note 6. The revival of rhetoric launches another, related challenge. Yet "interpretive social science" is still widely regarded as woolly headed, rhetoric is misdefmed as deceit, and challenges to the universalizability criterion in social science methodology and philosophy of science are not yet sufficiently appreciated.

To be sure, few historians ever committed themselves to the positivist program of theory construction that, for instance, the Social Science Research Council urged on them in the early s. A Treatise on Argumentation, trans. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver orig. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d edn. Bulletin 64 thought that "particular explanations of particular data. Consequently, the authors urged as a "general rule" that "problems should be defined and hypotheses developed as early in the analysis as possible," and they rejected "ad hoc hypotheses, drawn upon only after the evidence has been selected.

See Social Sciences in Historical Study, But see, for example, the historian Olivier Zunz's comments on recent comparative-historical sociology, which he found "does not provide any real alternative" to the universalizing perspective of an earlier generation of historical sociologists, despite claims by its practitioners to have abandoned that perspective Olivier Zunz , "Toward a Dialogue with Historical Sociology" [review of Theda Skocpol , ed. In the Skocpol anthology, the historian Lynn Hunt acutely noted that the work of the historian and sociologist Charles Tilly has been at its best when it is either predominantly historical or predominantly sociological, rather than "caught uncomfortably between the two" See also Victoria E.

Bonnell's generally excellent "The Uses ot: Mink - J. Hexter - Others: The New Cultural History. U of California P, A New Philosophy of History. U of Chicago P, The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding. U of Wisconsin P, Philosophical Analysis and History. Harper and Row, The Postmodern History Reader.

Cultural History after Foucault. French Constructions of the Past. The History and Narrative Reader. The Varieties of History: Knowledge and Explanation in History: The Logic of the History of Ideas. On History and Philosophers of History. Laws and Explanation in History. The Practice of History. In Defence of History. Toward a Logic of Historical Thought.

U of Texas P, The New History and the Old.

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Philosophical History and the Problem of Consciousness. The Nature of History. The Logic of History: Putting Postmodernism in Perspective. The Truth of History. The Poverty of Historicism. Our Knowledge of the Past: An Introduction to Philosophy of History. Reflections on Postmodernism Now. Telling the Truth About History.

Introduction to the Philosophy of History: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History.

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