Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Review of "Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography"

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has an article by Prof. John H. Zammito (History and German, Rice) on a book with an interesting topic: Aviezer Tucker's Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography.

The opening paragraph (emphases are in the original):

According to Aviezer Tucker, modern historiography is “scientific,” and Bayesian probability theory explains why. He offers a complex, powerful and welcome addition to the philosophical consideration of historical practice. Three points stand out: first, his careful elucidation of what it means to invoke the consensus of a disciplinary community as a warrant for knowledge (ch. 1); second, his historical account of the emergence and consolidation of a paradigm for historical practice, identified with Ranke, which links this decisively not only with its predecessor disciplines but also with its most significant successor, evolutionary biology (ch. 2); and, finally, the Bayesian explication of the “normal science” component in historical practice, what Tucker calls “scientific historiography” (ch. 3). Less compelling, in my view, are his account of historical disagreement (ch. 4) and his discussion of the limits of historical knowledge (chs. 5-6).

Given that works on historical subjects have multiplied and become increasingly popular in recent time, it would be prudent to understand the different methods of approach towards writing such works. Fxs


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