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Contents:
  1. Against Historicism: History, Memory, and Truth
  2. Suggested Reading
  3. The Frailty of Historical Truth: Learning Why Historians Inevitably Err
  4. A Question of Interpretation | History Today

Rasmussen eds. MIT Press. History, Humanity, and Truth. George Barany - - University of Denver. Truth and Foundations of Truth. On the Problem of Truth and its History. Ingeborg Seifert - - Philosophy and History 18 2 Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. Christopher P. Long - - Cambridge University Press. Basic Questions on Truth. Steven P.

Against Historicism: History, Memory, and Truth

Marrone - - Medieval Academy of America. Merold Westphal - - Humanities Press. Barry Allen - - Journal of the History of Philosophy 50 1 Added to PP index Total views 78 , of 2,, Recent downloads 6 months 11 , of 2,, How can I increase my downloads? Sign in to use this feature. No keywords specified fix it. Paul Ricoeur in Continental Philosophy categorize this paper.

Applied ethics. History of Western Philosophy. Normative ethics.

Philosophy of biology. Philosophy of language. Philosophy of mind. As we delved further into the essays, their peccadilloes served, like coal miners' canaries, to alert us to fundamental faults. Failure to consult an original source left the author at the mercy of an intermediary's imperfect or biased reading.

To avoid being unconsciously influenced by the second-hand user's slant it was essential to see the full original. Moreover, original sources often revealed pertinent data unseen by and unknown to the lazy secondary borrower.


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Even more detrimental were failures to recheck sources before publication. For the resultant errors went far beyond simple transcription mistakes. Reviewing their sources showed that our authors often misconstrued their meaning or import. They had adopted material supporting their own conclusions, ignoring or slighting contrary evidence and alternative viewpoints in the same source, often in the same sentence.

Only by rereading sources before going to press would our authors have avoided the selectivity trap. In writing and rewriting, we are ever prone to single out and pervert evidence for the sake of coherence, consistency, and credibility.

Suggested Reading

Absent a final close reading of source materials, such deformations, we concluded, were inescapable. Every historian makes things up while writing—selecting, omitting, and reshaping data to make an argument clear, a point vivid, a conclusion indubitable.


  1. Site Index;
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  3. After the Fact!
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  5. Does Democracy Need Truth?: A Conversation with the Historian Sophia Rosenfeld;
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  7. A Social History of Truth.

We had been schooled to abhor deliberate bias, knowing nonetheless that objectivity was at best a noble dream. But we had not realized quite how far unconscious bias suffused the process of gathering and using sources, let alone how important it was——and how much work it took——to minimize that bias. These findings affected us in three ways.

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The Frailty of Historical Truth: Learning Why Historians Inevitably Err

First, they warned us to view with extra caution the veracity and conclusions of historians given to manifold, even if seemingly minor, carelessness. Second, they were invaluable reminders for our own doctoral research, time-consuming and costly as adhering to them proved to be. It took me an additional week in the National Archives, not only to check my initial transcripts and synopses of my biographee George Perkins Marsh's 1,odd diplomatic despatches from the Ottoman Empire and Italy, but also to reread those despatches in their entirety, so as to gauge what my penultimate thesis draft had omitted, scanted, or misinterpreted.

The third lesson was the most sobering. However much we took these cautionary principles to heart, however ardently we vowed to adhere scrupulously to their tenets, we came to realize that we could never unfailingly do so. Indeed, our lapses, like our mentors', were bound to become more numerous the busier our careers.

A Question of Interpretation | History Today

How many historians take the time, even given the resources, to recheck every source before publication? Who faithfully ferrets out every original source from its secondary citation, especially when the sought-for "original" turns out to be another dubious secondary?

A scholarly task would never end. So we know we fall inexcusably short. This mortifying knowledge should fortify humility, much extolled by scripturally minded historians who bid us wash our disciplinary disciples' feet of clay. Deferred-to seers no more, historians have lost public credibility. To the genre's own insuperable limitations——data that are always selective and never complete; the unbridgeable gulf between actual pasts and any accounts of them; bias stemming from temporal distance, from hindsight, and from narrative needs——we must add, and keep in mind, human frailty.

Hence we rightly accede to perpetual revision of our work. Continual correction is mandatory not only because new data keep coming to light, new insights keep arising, and the passage of time outdates earlier judgments, but also because we recognize that we never wholly live up to the demanding tenets of our trade.

We ought not be chagrined, therefore, that some successor is apt to disclose our unwitting mistakes and lay bare their sorry historical consequences. We are duty-bound only to minimize such lapses only so far as our brief years render reasonably possible. And to impart to our own students the humbling lessons bequeathed to us of the frailty of historical truth. David Lowenthal is emeritus professor and honorary research fellow at University College London.

Paul H. Horace S. Luke, " Wherein I Descend from Mt. Quoted in Frank L.