what i learned today

analytical philosophers really, really like to define things. they get mad when you don't define things very exactly and hold to your original definitions exactly. i'm not an analytical philosopher. on the contrary, i make them mad. i must try harder to stick to tightly defined definitions in my papers. history and philosophy are funny things. history seems to want to describe, describe, describe. it's likely that with all the description, you can't find one "normative" element--an essential quality that holds all these things that you're describing together. so you sometimes make things up--ideologies, personal preferences, national character, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, etc. for example: if something happened that we don't understand in, say, the Soviet Union's biology program in 1949, we might speculate that it's unusual because it's marxist/dialectical materialist. but there's no actual evidence that marxism/dialectical materialism is causing things to turn out different than we expected. we make these inferences based on widespread tendencies we see in other places nearby our area of inquiry. so if we read Stalin saying something like "[communists] must storm the fortress of science" and then we see biology changing, we assume that the two things are tightly connected. but we don't actually know that they are empirically. when doing history, that's okay. you can make these connections and it's up to other scholars to show you're wrong. that's not okay in philosophy. that's something i've been learning. likewise, if you come into a history discussion/reading/lecture and attack the book/speaker for not holding to tight definitions of things like "marxism" or "ideology" or "causation" they might: (1) be sympathetic but try to defend themselves by showing how these definitions are fuzzy anyway, (2) shoot a look of bemusement at you for being overly analytical and not appreciating the fuzziness of history, or (3) shoot at you. does this mean history and philosophy are bad roommates? how then can history and philosophy of science (HPS--the program i'm in at notre dame) (co-)exist? with lots of work and patience, i guess. somewhere in my idealistic imaginiation, i guessed that critical thinking was important in both history and philosophy. and that critical thinking was the underlying "methodology" of both. but i was/am wrong. critical thinking is of the same type as philosophizing or historicizing, but not exactly the same thing. philosophy and history both have methods. those methods are not unrelated. but, just like with the northern and southern Irish, just because they're kissing cousins doesn't mean they can't have really big fights over who is more right. can't we all just get along?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I appreciate your comments on the nuances of your studies. Seems like 50 cents of one but a half dollar to another.

It made me think of the nuances of the tax season. I am learning that with the dreaded AMT tax, a deduction and charity are not one in the same. They are and the are not simultaneously depending on the prospective cost benefit analysis of giving.

I only wish that it were as easy when Jesus told Peter to pay the tmeple tax in Mt. 17:24-27.

Or in contemporary Christianese:

"E, go to the pond on campus and the first fish you catch will have you completed state and federal forms with payment attached (provided you are under the canopy of financial protection)"


4/05/2005 2:46 PM  
Blogger Scott Sloan said...

E, I believe that History and Philosophy can coexist. Historians use models, typology, and paradigms to explain events. Unfortunately these models, typologies, and paradigms are flawed because of the Historians own personal bias (look at Herodatus, and Plutarch as examples of this).

Philosophy provides the framework and boundaries by which paradigms are built. Philosophy explains the typology, models, and factors by which Historians choose their models to explain events. Philosophy explains the bias by which the Historian is making her/his argument about the event being discussed. For example, Marxism is an ideology within socio-economics. Utilitarianism and Kantism are also ideologies within the same catagory. A Historian may choose to describe an event by using Utilitarian, and Marxist ideologies.

I think you are right that Philosophy and History make bad bed buddies.

4/06/2005 8:39 AM  

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